Kevin Edgecombe’s passion was enflamed ed during a trip to Nepal in 2009. His wife, Linda, was one of the Directors of IWEN (Intercultural Women’s Educational Network), a charity that rescues females from bonded labour and provides meaning to their lives through education. After seeing the extent to which the program liberated young women, he decided to get more involved. A builder by trade, it is only natural that he would come up with a program like “Classrooms for a Cause.” In 2012 he led a team of volunteers that built two classrooms at the Chainpur School in Godhawa, Nepal. Now he is building a 4,000 square foot multi-functional facility, called Unako House, in the Dang region of Nepal. The name Unako means “it’s hers” in Nepalese. The building will hold a community center, classroom, workshop, kitchen, large meeting room, two retail outlets and living quarters for a caretaker. Though the grid is very intermittent, there are excellent solar conditions. The building will be solar powered and truly Unako: a house of their own.
“Our solar harvest modeling for Nepal suggests the 10 kW solar PV system will produce an annualized average of 44 kWh/day with monthly averages as high as 52 kWh/day in March and as low as 35 kWh/day in July,” said Ben Giudici, of Riverside Energy in Kamloops. In this rural part of Nepal, the electrical grid is very unreliable if not completely non-existent. Many local families will be accustomed to living completely without electricity. The largest loads in Unako house will be ceiling fans, refridgerator, freezer, 2 desktop computers, 10 laptops for the school, and LED lighting. Sewing machines will likely be added in the future to provide additional educational infrastructure. Giudici believes the 10 kW solar array, dual inverters, and 48 sealed industrial batteries providing off-grid electrical power for the building will be up to the task. Once users gain some operational experience, the system should be a sustainable source of electricity for the building for many years to come. Unako House will also have a diesel generator should the solar system need additional help at times or ever need to be out of service for maintenance
IWEN purchased the land for Unako House in 2013. The girls who will be taught in this school come from poor, illiterate Tharu families who were forced to sell them into bonded servitude. Some of them will have been forced to work 16 hours a day; a few were forced into prostitution. IWEN offers a goat as compensation for the income the girl would have generated and returns them to their homes. After that, IWEN provides them with an educational scholarship that includes, her test fees, uniform, etc. and continues until graduation. The girl’s newly acquired literacy and mathematical skills allow their families to enter into realms that were previously denied them. As one of the mothers put it, now they will know if they if they are being paid their full wages. As their daughters gained confidence, Tharu mothers realized they should also be educated. So IWEN was asked to organize a leg-up literacy program for mature women. “If you educate a mother, you educate a community hub,” observed Edgecombe, who is now President of IWEN Canada.
IWEN also set up a microcredit program to give the mothers access to capital. It began with the idea that rather than simply being a beneficiary each individual Tharu family within the Mother’s Groups was required to give back to IWEN something in return for their daughter’s educational scholarship. The families’ return could either be monetary, material or voluntary work depending on what was feasible for the particular group. Each Mother’s Group decided to return back to IWEN 10 to 20 rupees, which in Canadian money is about 14 cents. The mothers asked if their meager funds could stay within their Mother’s Group. IWEN agreed. This money gives them access to capital to purchase goats, seed and literacy training. Prior to this their only recourse was the landlords, who charge 10% interest. A year and a half ago, IWEN started a scarf business where the mothers can earn money.
Giudici and his business partner Paul Fletcher were introduced to the project after Bill Adams invited Ben over breakfast last fall. Adams’ day job is Director of Sustainability and Technology with Canfor’s pulp and paper division. He is also a volunteer with the charity Developing World Connections, which partnered with IWEN on the solar project and project manager for the solar component. They named it “Project Dignity,” to represent the change in the lives of these young women from vulnerable girls as indentured servants to educated woman with a life of opportunity. “I wanted to make a difference in the world,” Adams said. “This opportunity will enable me to use my project management and engineering expertise to help transform the lives of these young women in Nepal through education. I have been overwhelmed by the community support to pull this 10 kW project together and bring opportunity to these families in Nepal.” Giudici and Fletcher wanted in, “It is very exciting for us to be involved as volunteers in the Unako House project!” Riverside Energy Systems often designs and supplies off-grid power systems locally where remote properties may require the convenience of electricity.
“Working on Unako House however shifts things to a new level for us where our contribution will potentially have life changing impact for underprivileged young women in another part of the world. It is an honor for us to be part of this effort!”. Adams added that, “We wanted pre-build as much as possible in my garage, so the solar components could be mounted on plywood panels, thoroughly tested and safely shipped to Nepal.” Engineering students from the UBC Okanagan Capstone program designed the basic electrical services for the community center. The components are being mounted on white plywood panels, so they can be shipped safely to Nepal. The original project design had originally proposed installing a 16 panel system, which AMEC Americas agreed to donate as part of their sustainability commitment. The panels came from Canadian Solar, which added another 20 after they discovered the full extent of the project recipients.
The off-grid power system components have already been shipped off to Nepal and should reach the building site around the time that Bill and his wife arrive to finish off the community center. A group of Canadian university students will be there in July and August. Kevin Edgecombe will be working with them for 6 or 7 day. The last to arrive will be Ben Giudici and Paul Fletcher in September. They will train the local people to maintain the system and make sure everything is completely tested and commissioned before before going online. Unako House should open for business by the end of the yearl. To read more about: