In October 2012, 14 women arrived in Berkeley, California to take part in a very unique workshop. Some arrived from Colorado, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington; others flew in from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Mexico. Their objective? To learn to be installers and trainers in We Care Solar’s international programs.
The program was conceived by We Care Solar co-founders, Laura Stachel and Hal Aronson, and Solar Energy International’s Laurie Guevera-Stone more than a year ago.The three imagined the power of an educational program that could train a cadre of women to teach female health providers how to use and maintain solar electricity systems, and who could lead PV installations in health facilities populated by women patients. With support from the Putnam Foundation and the Clif Bar Family Foundation, this dream became a reality. And instructors Carol Weis, Hal Aronson, and Laura Stachel worked for weeks to prepare a comprehensive course.
The women ambassadors were selected from a large pool of applicants and included electricians, PV installers, a doctor, a geologist, two business women, and engineers. All the women were required to take 12 weeks of SEI’s Introductory PV courses before coming to the 6-day intensive in Berkeley. The workshop included hands-on instruction in wiring, installation, roof mounting; exercises in how to size solar electric systems and trouble shoot existing solar electric systems; and classes on Safe Motherhood and Maternal Health Care including common pregnancy complications and treatments. Some of the time, the students attended classes held at UC Berkeley. On other occasions, they were drilling rooftops at a training center built by Aronson and volunteers in his Berkeley backyard. Most evenings included scrumptious meals and additional evening activities. One very special feature of the program was that almost all the participants were hosted by Berkeley residents, who opened their homes and hearts to this talented group. At the end of the course, two public health providers headed for Nepal visited the class how to use and deploy Solar Suitcases in upcoming maternal health projects, giving the Solar Ambassadors their first chance to their try out their teaching skills.
It was an enriching experience for all the ambassadors, most of whom had never been in an all women’s PV class, or a workshop that combined teaching pedagogy, technology, and women’s health. In addition to the excellent training, there was a sense of cooperation and support that was unparalleled, and many women reported that the week was transformative.