Aug. 29, 2023
UCalgary students help remote school in Peru see the light
Flicking a switch and seeing the lights turn on in a room is something many of us take for granted.
But, according to a 2020 report from World Bank, about 940 million people, or 13 per cent of the world’s population, live without electricity.
A group of electrical and software engineering students from the University of Calgary returned home July 3 from a mission to Peru, where they visited an area without a sustainable power source and helped set up a “microgrid” and other resources to bring power and light to a local school.
It was a life-changing trip for the community where they worked as well as for the students and professors involved. And it all sprang from a UCalgary professor’s vision to give people in remote areas a safer way to generate light.
Lighting up the world
Started in 1997 by electrical engineering professor Dr. Dave Irvine-Halliday, PhD, Light Up The World (LUTW) is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to providing resources and training for people in impoverished and remote communities around the world.
Irvine-Halliday’s original vision was to use LED lighting to bring practical, economical and environmentally safe lighting to communities that had traditionally used kerosene lamps to provide light.
Originally aimed at helping villagers in Nepal, over the years, LUTW has built dozens of projects around the world, helping more than a million people.
And Irvine-Halliday’s dream lives on at the university, more than 25 years after he founded LUTW. One of those continuing its goals is Schulich School of Engineering professor Dr. Hamidreza Zareipour, PhD, who says the LUTW UCalgary Club organized its first venture to Guatemala in 2018.
As an educator, Zareipour wanted to provide the students with a memorable experience, but he says he has a personal connection to the cause.
“I grew up in the Third World during a long war where having reliable electricity was not a given,” Zareipour says. “I know what a difference light can make in the life of people and especially for school kids.”
He organized another trip to Peru in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic paused international travel and the group’s humanitarian efforts.
Powering back up
As the world began to open up again, UCalgary students met with Zareipour to start organizing another project.
The group of 10 students, led by third-year software engineering student Samira Khan, worked with LUTW and designed a microgrid that included a 2.2-kilowatt solar panel system and a five kilowatts per hour (kWh) battery, an energy-conversation and charge-management system, and an energy-monitoring system at a school in a tiny village in the Andes region of Huancavelica, Peru.
Like Zareipour, Khan says she was also personally motivated to make a difference by her family’s personal experiences living in a country with electricity challenges.
“Seeing the difficulties encountered by communities without reliable power has motivated me to pursue sustainable solutions,” says Khan, whose family is originally from Bangladesh. “I firmly believe solar energy can provide clean and dependable electricity, helping to address the energy gap and improve lives in marginalized areas.”
An experience of a lifetime
While they were only in the community for a few days starting June 21, Khan says the experience in Peru will leave a lasting impression on the UCalgary team.
As they installed the system and battery, she says they were met with an unbelievably kind and welcoming group of schoolchildren.
“Despite the language barrier, they made the utmost effort to interact with us, teach parts of their language and just simply play games with us,” Khan says. “Seeing their bright smiles reaffirmed the importance of our mission and made every effort worthwhile.
“Knowing that we were contributing to improving their lives and creating a better future for them filled our hearts with joy and reinforced our commitment to continue working towards sustainable solutions.”
With the support of local authorities, the LUTW team was also able to set up the school with an internet connection and several low-cost laptops.
As soon as they returned home, Zareipour says the students started planning the next mission, adding he’s hoping for community and corporate support to make an even bigger impact.
“These trips are exceptional development opportunities for our students who step into a different world and get a new perspective on life,” he says. “They also make a huge difference in the life of people who are often not on anyone’s radar.”