Installing Solar in Dominica – Class is (back) in Session
Shannon Bunsen, WELL AP
Sustainability Project Manager
I have the honor of directing Mazzetti’s Sextant Foundation. Late last year we sent volunteers to the Kalinago Territory in Dominica. Mazzetti Electrical Designer Vineal Singh shared his powerful story of the experience and the impact. (Thank you Vineal!) Discover more about this project and others at SextantFoundation.org
Why did you decide to volunteer?
During college I developed a passion for renewable energy. I interned with a company, Grid Alternatives, which is a non-profit organization that installs solar for underserved communities. The feeling I had knowing that I was helping to create cleaner energy for the planet, while at the same time helping the less fortunate, was something that has stuck with me and led to my decision to volunteer in Dominica.
What was your expectation going into this project?
This project consisted of installing solar for six schools on the east side of the island in an area known as Kalinago Territory. Kalinago is the name of the tribe of people who are native to the island. My expectation was to help out in whatever way possible to install solar panels for these schools.
What was your role during your time there?
My role was to assist Jeff Rodriguez, retired electrician and Sextant Foundation team member, who was leading the installations. Together, he and I gathered necessary equipment, surveyed the sites, wired distribution panels, routed conduit, and installed panels on the roof of Atkinson Lighthouse Primary School.
Most impactful moment(s)/story(s) to share during the experience?
After experiencing rain for three consecutive days, we were starting to think we wouldn’t be able to get panels on the roof before I had to leave. Then, on Thursday, we woke up to a bright, sunny day, and we decided (right then) we would try to install the panels, hoping the weather stayed in our favor. Thankfully, it did; we were able to install all of the panels on the roof in one day.
The heavy rain also caused damage to the water system in the village where we were staying. We were without running water from Wednesday to Saturday. Luckily, our apartment had a reserve water tank, and we were able to fill buckets of water to use for showers and washing dishes.
Atkinson Lighthouse Primary School had been without utility power since Hurricane Maria (Sept. 2017). It used a generator at night when the school hosted community events. The entire second floor of the school had collapsed due to the hurricane; it was in the process of being rebuilt by another organization. In the interim, class was facilitated in the cafeteria, which usually does not receive much natural light during the day.
The day after arriving home, I received a photo from Jeff, showing a classroom with the lights turned on — the system we installed was working!
It was just a photo of a working light fixture but knowing the effort required to accomplish this, coupled with the resulting improved quality of life for those students/teachers, made me feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I was given to help this community.
Why is this meaningful work for you?
We are helping to improve the quality of life for these communities and providing resilient energy sources (in the event of future natural disasters). These schools can be used as places of refuge so ensuring that they have electricity will be a huge benefit and could save lives. Additionally, solar energy is renewable and better for the health of the planet.