Kyle Rudzinski

Kyle Rudzinski checks the wiring on a solar panel.

Dawn breaks late high in the Andes. But life in the town of Santa Rosa, Peru still starts early. From weaving alpaca blankets to cooking potato soup for breakfast, residents in this rural town begin every day by the sun, which blazes across a grassy, treeless landscape. Families stay busy throughout the day’s waking hours to stave off chills from a morning frost. And on this winter’s day there’s lots of work to warm hearts; for the first time ever, many will get the gift of light.

Canadian-based nonprofit Light Up the World and Peruvian nonprofit partner Kuyacc Ayni are in town working with locals to install small solar energy systems that provide enough power for two LED lights and one compact fluorescent, or CFL. On this day students from Texas Tech’s Center for Energy Commerce are also in town, assisting with the installations.

Christian Miguel

Christian Miguel Candela Barra of NonProfit Kuyacc Ayni teaches Texas Tech students how to wire a solar energy system.

Students, Peruvian families, and solar experts work side-by-side throughout the day, but often in the dark. Thatch roofs and adobe walls offer minimal insulation during cold August nights. And without glass, windows would simply be openings for blustery winds. Homes are pitch black throughout the day, making it tough to do household work. The faint light from sheep dung fueled fires fill homes with smoke, harming the health of mothers and children as they go about their days indoors.

Working in the Dark

Madison House Alum, Kyle Rudzinski works in the dark, connecting an indoor batter. It’s 10 AM and very bright outside but pitch black indoors.

For some families handheld flashlights are an option, but with battery costs hovering around $2.20 USD every week, it’s a costly option. That’s where Light Up the World and Texas Tech come in. Every year Texas Tech partners with Light Up the World on the World Energy Project, an experiential learning, service-based study abroad course. The World Energy Project creates tremendous opportunity for both students and the communities it serves. By paying for a complete solar energy package over time through microfinance, Peruvian families save money by paying less for their system than for batteries; they save time by avoiding the three hour trek to the nearest town to buy expensive batteries; they can be more efficient with high quality light indoors; they can avoid poor indoor air quality by relying on fire less; and they can offer their children an opportunity to pursue education at night. And with an adapter, families can power radios to connect them with their fellow Peruvians.

Life gets busy.  So busy sometimes, it seems like there’s just no time for community service.  I felt that way earlier and decided it was time to make time for service.  Despite ample opportunity as an undergrad to volunteer with service trips like, Alternative Spring Break, I had never traveled for service.  So I resolved to spend time working on a clean energy project abroad rather than take a traditional vacation.

After hours of online research I was fortunate enough to serve as a translator on the World Energy Project while learning about solar energy systems, microfinance, and Peruvian culture.  And next June I’ll be returning to Peru to lead Texas Tech students on the World Energy Project.

The University and Madison House instill the importance of lifelong service in students. And that tradition of service extends well beyond Grounds. For me, pursuing that tradition led to an incredibly powerful experience and a rewarding opportunity to help people. Your local UVA Club may be partnering with Madison House to hold a service event, or you can simply find something you care about in your community and make a few hours to volunteer. So, if you haven’t thought about service much since you last walked the Lawn, consider building on Virginia’s tradition to serve and get involved.

light

A light shines in a home in Peru…

Madison House is a student-run volunteer organization at the University of Virginia.

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