Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Visiting Mama Sarah Obama by Chuck Baclagon
August 28, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: Stop climate change | Tags: , , , , ,

From Making Waves

An account of Solar Generation’s trip to Kenya by Abi, Solar Generation Coordinator

Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend my days with a group of young, dedicated Kenyans who were attempting to tackle the twin problems of energy poverty and climate change. The young activists installed solar panels on the Senator Barack Obama School in Nyang’oma Kogelo and on the roof of Mama Sarah’s – US President Obama’s grandmother – home ,as part of a 20-day renewable energy workshop by Solar Generation.

We also wanted to send a wake up call to US President Obama and the leaders of other industrialized nations to give back to the developing world by taking leadership on climate action and upholding the right for clean development of countries like Kenya. When we first came up with the idea for this project, my team and I thought it would be a great project but that it might be too far-fetched!

But like many ideas that initially seem impossible, it just needed one person to get the ball rolling. In our case it was Kuno from the Switzerland office who sat down with his team to discuss the idea and realized that one of his interns – Josiah – is not only from Kenya but lived in the neighboring community to Mama Sarah’s. It was just the connection that we were looking for to make the project happen!

From the beginning, it was a priority for us that the local youth be stake holders in the project. We decided to approach the Kibera Community Youth Programme and invite them to co-develop a renewable energy workshop suited for Kenyan youth from Kibera and Nyang’oma Kogelo. We wanted the project to include hands-on training on solar photovoltaic installation and fabrication of self-assembling solar lamps. The combination of knowing how solar works and practical approach to installation, can build a positive reception by a community to the economic and environmental potential of solar power. It can also ensure that we have dedicated youth volunteers that are properly trained and can maintain the solar photovoltaic systems that we’ve installed.

“Oyawore, Mama Sarah” was my first attempt to speak Luo, the local dialect of US President Obama’s family’svillage in Nyang’oma Kogelo. This greeting got meme a warm smile and a hug from Mama Sarah Obama, the President’s grandmother, when I met her under a mango tree in front of her home.

At 87 years old, she exudes a strong warm presence. She’s definitely a lovable grandmother that you don’t want to fool around with. Ma’m Ann, a teacher from the Senator Barack Obama School, told us that Mama Sarah and her family have always supported projects that help improve the community. Years ago, her husband donated the piece of land where the primary and secondary schools now stand. That’s why, when she told her about Solar Generation and this project, Mama Sarah didn’t hesitate to get involved.

It took us 5 days to install the solar photovoltaic systems in Kogelo. Whenever she got a break from the constant flow of guests visiting her, Mama Sarah would sit on a wicker chair with a hand propped on her metallic purple cane and watch the youth volunteers climb her tin roof. From time to time, she reprimanded the turkeys in her backyard that were following me on account of the fact that I was answering their calls with with a throaty bird call of my own.

I can’t help but hold my breath whenever we switch on a renewable energy installation for the first time. It was the same this time in Kenya as I watched Mama Sarah flick on the solar-powered light in her home and at the Senator Barack Obama School. A sigh of relief and a big smile followed as usual.

The tropical climate, the sun and the warm people of Kenya reminded me of the Philippines (not to mention the bumper-to-bumper traffic in Nairobi that is an exact mirror of Manila’s). It made it easier for me to adjust to a new place while making sure that the project ran smoothly. But the best part of this project for me was that I was fortunate enough to visit Africa for the first time and work on something I believe in. By empowering the youth of Kenya through the renewable energy workshop, Solar Generation has opened the door for the leaders of tomorrow, for them to see what they can do now to fight climate change and the potential of embracing a sustainable energy..

I urge US President Obama and other world leaders to follow the example of the youth. Take personal responsibility for tackling climate change, break the deadlock plaguing the United Nations Climate Summit and embrace climate solutions such as renewable energy. It will be a win for the environment, the economy and the future generation.


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