Few minutes after my last presentation at the main campus of Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, and having a light lunch with a long time Facebook friend Austin Gege (a South African social activist) who I was meeting physically for the first time; we were informed that there was a last minute presentation to close the conference I was attending. We went back into the auditorium where the last day of the conference was being held, to find some young lads setting up microphone and slide presentation on the projector, before it dawned on me that ‘the young lads’ were the last presenters!
The whole auditorium was silent; everyone seems in anticipation of what these young chaps have to say after all the powerful presentations earlier in the day. But the 20minutes presentation from these young people was like the most enriching moment of the whole conference for me. My heart was in my hand, I was amazed by the ingenious endeavours and contribution of these high school graduates to their communities. You can tell from the passion in eyes when they took turn to speak about their social start up and the pride in their voices from their achievements. At that moment, I wish I knew half of what they were talking about when I was much younger.
‘The young lads’ are the Solar Pioneers – “a South African youth-led initiative of young people between the ages of 18 -24years old, whose vision is to see South Africa leading the rest of the world in the manufacture, distribution and usage of solar panels in every home at the cheapest possible price” as stated by Doctor Tshabalala, President – Solar Pioneers. Their dreams are as laudable and great, just like Bill Gate once had a dream that computers will be personally owned by all.
As each of the slide pictures of their work in different township across South Africa flash in front of my eyes, I could only image a scenario where more than half of our high school leftovers (who couldn’t secure admission into higher institutions) are equipped with solar panel manufacturing skills and supported by the government to produce cheap and reliable sources of energy to the countless communities who are daily without electricity supply in Nigeria.
The Solar Pioneers invented the first wooden solar panel in South Africa which is 100% locally made. I can imagine my parents’ house in Lagos pulling out of the national electricity grid and running mainly on renewable energy such as solar. The epileptic power supply in Nigeria won’t remain a major problem to our development if only we can harness other sources of renewable clean energy and care more about the future of the coming generations.
Interestingly, the strategies and activities of these young chaps work on the combination of awareness, education and real world business model to advocacy. They believe in change through education and empowerment training in their bid to change the status quo in favour of sustainable development in a country that’s among the highest polluters of the environment in the world. More importantly, they are making it cheaper and easier for people to adapt to the change. The Solar Pioneers through their flagship camp programme shall empower 100 high school students through a3weeks training on how to construct and install solar panels. Commercial and Art students will make up 20% of the students, while the remaining 80% students will come from Science related classes as a way to balance the knowledge gap. Worthy of note is the support provided by the Centre for Energy and Electric Power, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT CEEP).
I left the auditorium in deep thinking, ruminating on how we can power up Africa with the abundance of sunlight we get freely every day? How can we harness other sustainable sources of clean energy to develop our continent?? Yes, I know there is no one -solution –fit- all strategy that will work for Africa but Brain Tracy in his book, Success is a Journey says, ‘one oil barrel at a time’; if we cannot change the world at once, at least, just like the Solar Pioneers, we can start small in our own corner of the world and let our light shine through to others as the Solar Pioneers let their light shine to us all who were in that auditorium.
Zaid Shopeju is the Executive Director – Youth Vision Alliance Network (YVAN) and he coordinates the Zero Carbon Africa. Follow him on twitter @ZaidShopeju