Mothers are always right – the path to electricity in the jungle

It all began 4 years ago. Well actually if I’m being really honest it began 8 years ago, when my mother, after attending an inspiring talk by Peter Bo, suggested I go to Sierra Leone to this obscure hospital and set up solar panels. My mother has always been one for adventures. But since it was coming from my mother, I dismissed the suggestion as silly and forgot everything about Masanga. It wasn’t until four years ago when one of my dearest friends came back from volunteering in Masanga and suggested the same that it resonated and the plan started forming in my head.

I joined troops with Line Sindal who was coordinating the Aarhus group at the time, and we spent a couple of months describing a new project to completely replace the Masanga genset with 24/7 solar power. Due to financial limitations, the hospital can only run the genset for scheduled surgery days and a couple of hours every night. So this was an optimistic plan – one that could change the life and work at Masanga Hospital completely.

We needed a lot of money, so fundraising took a couple of years. Finally Merkur Bank of Denmark stepped in with full funding and, from one day to the next, set the project churning. It was actually happening.

Now shipping something to Sierra Leone is not something done in a hurry. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, so if you are not extremely careful, the container will get stuck in Freetown harbor, arrive half empty or simply disappear. To our relief the container finally arrived untampered, and in spring 2014, I could finally begin constructing the solar system at the beautiful grounds of Masanga.

As one of my good friends once said, if you want to know how long something takes, take your estimate and multiply it with the number pi. This is certainly true for Sierra Leone. Mixing cement by hand, using sand dug out from the river by a naked man in a canoe, sets certain limits to the speed of the work. To make things worse, we were interrupted by the terrible Ebola epidemic after working three months on the project. The hospital had to close, and the solar project came to a grinding halt as the epidemic swept across the country. Six months later, in Feb. 2015, I returned, rallied the solar troops and can now, with about five accumulated months of work, proudly present 100 solar panels ready to light up the Masanga Jungle. Remaining is the work with installing power inverters and the batteries for night power. An additional 50 solar panels donated by ADRA are currently making their way in a container ship along the West coast of Africa. These will secure sufficient power supply to the hospital once installed.

I can’t wait to turn on the system and see the light flow through the jungle from a new and improved hospital. I guess, in retrospect, mothers are always right.

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