Oakland Students Create “Solar Suitcases” to Energize Schools in African Refugee Camp


About two dozen students from Skyline High and Castlemont High were recognized last Friday for their hard work and dedication to a summer program in which they learned about solar energy with to help young people in Africa.  The students presented their “Solar Suitcase” projects to educators, scientists and industry leaders at Skyline. The suitcases are small solar power generators that will be sent to a refugee camp in Kenya where they will power schools.

“All of us had the job of helping someone,” said Skyline junior Bonnie Guan.

“Without electricity at my house I wouldn’t be able to do homework or read. We have a purpose for doing this, all this hard math and hard work: help students in Kenya, to give them light, to give them energy,” said Skyline junior, Frank Cortes.

The students described a conversation they had via Skype with someone in Africa who helps bring education to girls. They learned that the young refugees don’t get homework because they don’t have light or power at home with which to study. That motivated the students.

This special course, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a joint venture between Oakland Unified School District, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and several community partners, the East Bay College Fund, We Care Solar and Aspire Education Project.

Charles Wilson, a junior at Castlemont, said he wasn’t sure about the course at first, but he quickly began to appreciate all that he was learning about math and electricity.

“It’s been good,” he said. “I want to learn more. It’s something I can do, helping out people in need. It’s in my nature to help people.”

The students wrote messages inside the suitcases to their Kenyan counterparts.

The course gives the students five high school credits and five college credits. This week, all the students are doing a local college tour visiting schools including Cal State East Bay, U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University.


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