Posted by: seedfoundation | October 13, 2010

Perspectives from Africa

Ladies and gentlemen we are back with the final installment of ‘Perspectives’, the ongoing series of audio interviews highlighting the REE students’ experiences in Africa.

E.B. – Hi Mike Cohn, thanks for joining me today on Perspectives.  So this is your first trip to the continent of Africa correct?

M.C. – This is my second.

E.B. – Well that’s pretty cool.  Have you ever been to Tanzania before?

M.C. – No.

E.B. – And you guys left August 15 and you just returned last week, so September 20th?

M.C. – That is correct.

E.B. – Excellent.

M.C. – Are these going to be yes or no questions?

E.B. – No no.  Do you mind briefly summarizing what you guys did in Africa?

M.C. – Well, the trip was through Solar HOPE and we were going there to install solar systems in the rural parts of Tanzania.  We did twelve installs with one water purification system.


Mike and Co. after an all day solar install


E.B. – What were some things that really stood out about the local populations access to energy compared to Portland?

M.C. – We went to some pretty rural areas where you drive for many hours without seeing a single power line to these small villages that are very localized.  The majority of the populations remain in these villages because of the level of poverty there.

E.B. – Do you think solar energy will benefit these people?

M.C. – The question came up, ‘is electricity a necessity or a luxury?’  Over here it’s definitely a necessity but the group consensus was that having electricity and water purification is a luxury.  It’s shown in the expected life rate of 45 years for the common person.


Urban Tanzania


E.B. – Will access to solar energy increase the lifespan of some of these people?

M.C. – I feel that’s it’s a good starting point to building a proper infrastructure there that’s based on healthcare education and westernized technologies to bring commerce and a healthier lifestyle.  It mainly comes down to better education and that can be achieved through the simplicities of having [LED] lights that allow the schools to stay open longer hours.

E.B. – One of the main purposes in my understanding was to install LED lamps and effectively replace kerosene lamps because the lamps are dangerous and cause health problems for the students.   Do you want to comment on that?

M.C. – That’s definitely true but as we saw it’s not cost effective unless there is an outside funder.  Kerosene and diesel is going to be way cheaper along with alternative biofuels than bringing technology over there.  Each system cost between $1000-2000 whereas buying a lantern is incredibly cheap.  So there is definitely a barrier.

E.B. – What were some of the highlights of the trip?

M.C. – This solidified my understanding of what I’ve learned in this program at OIT.  It seemed like it [what I’ve learned] was more theoretical and it had no validation until this trip.  It was very enjoyable because I didn’t realize how much I’ve learned until I put a huge solar system that benefits all these little kids that have never seen movies before and are amazed by light switches.


Hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti


E.B. – Are you glad you did this trip and would you recommend it to other OIT REE students?

M.C. – Absolutely, I feel like this should be offered multiple times a year with many focuses – not just solar but also water purification and building infrastructure.  I definitely see myself doing more work in Tanzania.  I’m not sure if it will be through solar HOPE but in some way.  I think there are a lot of opportunities that relate to improving the infrastructure as well as a health sector and education.  It’s really easy and there is so much money out that is out there.   Very few people are utilizing the government incentives.

E.B. – Is there anything else you want to add about your trip to Tanzania?

M.C. – I’m just amazed by the country.  I loved it there.  It’s so simple but we had such an impact on just being there and applying the knowledge that we think is common sense over here.

E.B. – Thank you for your time Mike.


Sunrise over Africa atop Mt. Kilimanjaro


For more information on Solar HOPE, visit




  1. What a great experience for college students. As a solar process engineer in Hillsboro Oregon and a 92 OIT MET grad, my alma mater participating in bringing solar power to people who have never had power just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Tom Miller

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