After earning his BA at the University of Rhode Island, Curt Davis volunteered as an Environmental Education Volunteer for the Peace Corps. During his 27 months of service, he teamed up with NGOs to help Paraguay address community concerns and needs. After completing his service, Curt traveled on to Hokkaido, Japan to work as an English teacher through the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme. His interests in international development brought him to Brandeis as an MA candidate in the Sustainable International Development (SID) program within the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Curt recently traveled to Nicaragua to volunteer with Grupo Fenix, where he worked with the NGO to help implement solar powered energy into the community. He is expected to graduate in May 2011.
On the morning of Friday, January 1, 2010, I left my friend’s house in Brooklyn, NYC and headed to beautiful Nicaragua. My friend, Freddy Soza, a fellow classmate in the SID program, met me there. After spending the weekend together on the Pacific coast, we headed northwest towards the Honduran border. Freddy went to his home in Estelí and I continued on further until I arrived at the Centro Solar (‘solar center’ in Spanish) in a small village called Sabana Grande, near Totogalpa. I then participated in a solar culture course with the non-governmental organization (NGO), Grupo Fenix, for one week.
Even though Freddy and I had talked about how that region of Nicaragua was at one time thick with landmines, I had no idea that landmines would relate to my experience during the solar culture course. In Sabana Grande I was briefed on the origins of the Centro Solar:
Grupo Fenix has its roots within the National Engineering University (UNI) in Managua. Their association with the community in Totogalpa was established after a Canadian organization, the Falls Brooke Center, based in New Brunswick, was looking for partners to create jobs in solar energy for landmine victims. Since then, landmine victims and women’s groups have become key actors in reducing local firewood use through the production of solar cookers. Furthermore, they also created impressive solar electricity systems.
After I arrived at the Centro Solar, I met up with Peter Carver, a second-year SID student, who had just completed a 7 month practicum with Grupo Fenix. Peter introduced me to members of the women’s group and a man who was a landmine victim. The gentleman would later teach me how to make a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel from cut PV cells and locally available materials. The next day one of the women taught me how to make a solar cooker from scratch using wood, glass, and scrap newspaper plates.
During my week in Sabana Grande I stayed with a family that benefitted from the daily uses of both a solar cooker and a solar PV electricity system made at the Centro Solar. I learned so much from them and it felt comfortably similar to my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay. We spent every night talking, and on one of those nights we heard eight landmines detonate within a half hour. I was told that it was probably the army detonating mines that they found. They told me stories of family members who were killed by mines. It was truly a moving experience to witness firsthand how the production and use of solar energy products have had a positive impact on the environment. At the same time, it also provided landmine victims with jobs, as well as inspiration.
On the last day of the solar course, I finished making my own small PV panel and then helped install a small solar PV system that would provide light for three rooms in a home. Before we headed to Managua, we ate a delicious meal (including vegetables, rice and bread) that was cooked entirely using one of the solar cookers. It was the perfect ending to an amazing experience.
- Curt Davis
The programs in Sustainable International Development (SID) at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University is a community of concerned students and faculty drawn from around the world. The mission is to help build a new generation of development planners and policy makers for whom a global society free of poverty, preventable disease, and environmental degradation is achievable.