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 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.
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.
A light shines in a home in Peru…
Andrew McCormick ’06 was the Head Program Director for Hoos Against Hunger and Homelessness for two years. He and his wife have continued their volunteer service after graduating. We covered some of their efforts in a recent e-newsletter.
My wife, Amanda, and I (Boosters and HAHAH alums!), had a priceless opportunity to spend two months in Cambodia last summer. I had previously spent a lot of time backpacking around Southeast Asia and so I was infinitely excited to revisit such a marvelously unique part of our world. However, rather than just visiting ancient temples and eating deliciously spicy street food, we’d actually be spending most of our time volunteering. So what takes a lawyer and teacher to Cambodia for two months?
An eleven-year old girl.
During a solo backpacking trip to Vietnam, I was solicited by dozens of men offering me little boys and girls. On one of my last nights in Ho Chi Minh City, I was approached by a tiny little girl, who donned an overdose of makeup and a shortage of clothes, who seemed to be the same age as my younger sister.
She asked if I wanted to buy her.
After a failed conversation in broken English, I could only ask her how old she was.
Although I had heard these types of stories before, this little girl was standing right in front of me and this was her reality.
And that can’t happen.
My wife and I were both blessed with the work flexibility to take off for a few months and try to do something about this dark world of sex slavery. Sure, we weren’t going to be changing the world in two months, but helping give a single boy or girl a second chance at life is always worth fighting for. After doing some research about various NGOs, we decided that we’d be spending our summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
I wrote the below blog post after only two days in Phnom Penh. Even now, as we’ve resumed our lives as a securities litigator and special education teacher, our lives will never be the same. And whether it is in Charlottesville or Phnom Penh, that’s often one of the unexpected benefits of volunteer work: you set off to help others, but YOU emerge as a bright, wiser, and kinder person, full of invaluable experiences.
“We’ve now been in Phnom Penh for two days, and along with the endless dust and heat, there has been plenty of heartache.
But more importantly, hope.
We’ve already had the chance to meet the girls we’ll be working with and supporting this summer. Just like any girls, they love giggling, fixing up their hair and nails, and, of course, crushing on boys. However, these girls also carry some very heavy and traumatic burdens from their dark and painful pasts. It is absolutely stunning to see their young smiling faces and to then hear the horrific things they have had to endure during their young lives. Some of these girls are only five or six years old, but have already experienced more trauma and abuse than any person should ever bear.
Fortunately, the organization we’re working with, the She Rescue Home, is doing tremendous things to help give these girls a second chance. There are a number of awesome organizations in Cambodia, including the She Rescue Home, that help rescue and rehabilitate girls who have been trafficked. However, the She Home is also doing incredible things to help girls who are extremely at-risk of ending up in that horrible world. There are so many horror stories out there about young girls who have been stolen and put into brothels and have endured so many terrible hardships. Thus, it is SO important that the She Home is also doing some amazing things to help girls before they have to experience that sort of torment.
One such at-risk population in Cambodia is rape victims. Obviously, rape is a horrendous thing and probably the worst thing a person can endure. Unfortunately, a rape victim in Cambodia isn’t met with sympathy or support, but rather, with scorn, hate, and abandonment. Since the girl is now seen as dirty and worthless to the family (even if the dad was the perpetrator), she is often sold to traffickers or kicked out of the family home. Thus, it is so crucial to intervene during these early stages, rather than after years of torture and abuse.
Despite all that gloom, there are also many tales of victory. The She Home has been able to pull a lot of these girls off the streets and have given them the support and attention they desperately need. Just as it is difficult to hear so many tales of grief, it is absolutely thrilling to hear beautiful stories of redemption and rebirth. So many of the girls are dominating school and emerging as leaders in their communities. We’ve also had the chance to visit a few local businesses, including a delightful cupcake café, that employee some of these girls. I can’t even begin to describe the joy you feel when you see a stunningly gorgeous wedding cake that has been made by a young lady who has escaped from such a dark world and is now striving to build a new life for herself. It is truly humbling to be part of something so beautiful, so transformative, and so full of hope.
And so there are certainly some evil people out there doing some absolutely horrendous things, but hope, freedom, and restoration are winning.”