Under the sun
County donation to power school in Atorkor, Ghana
Just 400 miles north of the equator, the seaside community of Atorkor, Ghana enjoys plenty of sunshine. Most days the sun comes up at about 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. It is ideally situated to capture the energy from the sun to generate electricity.
The Atorkor Vocational Training Institute (AVTI)—a school offering adult programs in computer training and trades as well as core subjects including English and mathematics— opened in 2011. The school represents the culmination of years of dogged pursuit by the County’s Peta Hall to raise funds, cajole bureaucrats and marshal resources toward improving the lives of people an ocean away.
Literally building the school from the ground up, Hall relied on money, tools, supply and the energy of dozens of folks from this community, including architect Brian Clark, to make it a reality.
In 2015, the first class graduated from AVTI—diplomas in hand and the armed with the skills to make a better life for themselves, their families and their community.
Electricity is expensive in Ghana and it can be unreliable. AVTI manages, regularly, with 12 hours of power, then 12 hours without. Even when the power is on, frequent brownouts threaten vulnerable computers and electronics.
Clark designed the main school building so that it could support an array of solar panels on the roof. But the cost was prohibitive—Hall doubted it would ever be possible.
Solar energy is still rare in Ghana—unknown in remoter areas such as Atorkor, despite the abundance of sunshine. And it’s expensive—well beyond the means of AVTI.
Peter Naylor became aware of AVTI when his partner’s grandson recently made a donation to the school. Naylor has lived in Wellington for only a few years and just recently became aware of the Atorkor project and the contributions many in this community had made to build this school. Naylor wanted to know if there was a way he could help.
“Well…..,” said Peta tentatively, in response.
It wasn’t long before Naylor had agreed to fund and manage the project to power the school with solar energy. Naylor knew the owner of Resco Energy, Fidel Riejerse, based in Mississauga. Resco is a large solar energy contractor—with experience working coastal seaside communities in the Carribean. They know what wind and salty air does to solar panels and they know how to manage the elements.
Resco has already sent an engineer to Atorkor to survey the site and develop specifications for the project.
Naylor is also bringing two Ghanaians to Canada for training on the new systems— one is a graduate from the vocational school, the other heads the electrical training department at AVTI and was the electrician who wired the school.
Once installed, the solar energy kit, including battery storage should deliver a majority of the school’s power—freeing up funds used to pay electricity bills for other school needs. The heavy electricity needs of the welding program means the school will have to remain attached to the national electricity grid.
But the solar electricity will give AVTI the flexibility to offer classes in the evening and around the vagaries of the national electical system. Peta says the sun shines intensely most of the year— subdued only slightly between December and March as sandstorms from the north saturate the atmosphere.
“But when the rains come, all the sand falls back to earth, and the sun beams brightly again,” said Peta. “The heat, however, never seems to be subdued.”
Peta will travel to Atorkor next month for the first time since 2015. There, she will meet the first graduating class. She is keen to hear their stories—where they are, how they’ve progressed and what this training means to their families and the community.
Eleven students attended the first classes.
Currently 285 students are enrolled at AVTI.
The school Peta founded and built is now owned and operated by Ghana’s National Vocational Training Institute. AVTI has been elevated from a Class D to a Class B school.
“It’s a compelling story,” says Peta.