Minnesota students help provide solar power to others in East Africa

An elective class at Carondelet Catholic School in South Minneapolis just became even more rewarding than these students and their middle school science teacher imagined.

"It’s charging! Now that is cool," screamed multiple students.

Solar suitcases being worked on by sixth and seventh graders are headed for East Africa where they will offer more light and charging opportunities to schools, homes and medical clinics without electricity. Places where everything becomes more difficult after the sun goes down.

"When you start to think about what other people have to go through, and they have to deal with that every day and if they get the things we do, that’s just amazing for them," says seventh grader Chloe Marsh. "We just take that for granted."

Edina native and co-founder of We Share Solar, Gigi Goldman, helped start the non-profit in 2013.

"We always tell the kids you won’t know the people’s lives you are about to change," says Goldman. "But we can assure you they will be forever different."

At first, the non-profit was a way to help women in rural corners of the globe, where chances of mom or baby dying during childbirth increase due in large part to complications blamed on lack of light. More recently We Share Solar has expanded solar suitcase placements to education settings and refugee camps. To date, nearly 900 of these solar suitcases light up energy-scarce regions of the planet.

Goldman is also celebrating the Clean Energy Bill signed into Minnesota law this session, requiring electricity production to be 100% carbon-free by the year 2040. The state will invest in much more wind, solar and biomass electricity sources. Plus, there will be more opportunities for clean energy jobs in the future. And in a state where students are interested in STEM studies, they are already hard at work.      

"Minnesota students have been driving change for thousands of students who otherwise would not have the kind of life chances that having access to electricity gives them," says Goldman.

Fifty schools across Minnesota including in Hopkins and North Minneapolis, have taken part in building solar suitcases over the years. Plus, the non-profit will add twenty more within our state lines this fall. Applications are being accepted now with grants often making the hands-on project possible.

What makes this class shine even brighter is the difference regarding climate anxiety. Ms. Ali Maeser says she’s started to notice middle schoolers' worries about the future health of the planet are very real.

"It’s so sad to think that if we don’t do something quickly, it could all just disappear," says sixth grader Harper Nicoll. 

"The future lies with these kids," says science teacher Ali Maeser "By instilling this knowledge in them and awareness that this is the one world we get for them to be able to make a change, even if it’s the smallest one suitcase, it’s one suitcase more that can potentially help a whole group of kids. A whole group of people that are looking for that."

A powerful project to say the least.

"It feels good to like help people," says Marsh.