4 February 2013

Gambia: Going 'Green' in the Gambia

Studying abroad, although rewarding, comes with its challenges. Adapting to a new time zone, language and culture are common obstacles, but for St. Mary's College of Maryland, students who studied in The Gambia this past summer, dealing with unpredictable power outages--lasting six to 12 hours a day--was not on their list of expectations.

Students did not sit idly by, however. They took action to solve the power outage dilemma and the solution will benefit others studying abroad in the West African country for years to come.

At "Happy Camp", the Gambian housing compound that serves as home to St. Mary's students studying at the University of The Gambia, students tapped into the country's year-round sunshine by harnessing solar energy to power essential appliances.

"Power outages are typical of The Gambia, said Mandy Reinig, director of international education at St. Mary's College. "However, it was really inconvenient for our students who were trying to study. A generator would have been costly and used quite a bit of gasoline, so the students made the decision to go green."

Luke Mowbray, St. Mary's College's facilities manager and sustainability coordinator, traveled to the country that fall and worked with students, as well as local contractors to purchase and install solar panels.

"Solar photovoltaic panels are clean, reliable alternative to other power sources such as a generator", said Mowbray. "I was thrilled to work with the local community to make something sustainable happen and to improve the quality of life for our students."

Positioned on the roof of the compound, the solar panels provide electricity during the blackouts to essential appliances, including fans and a modem for internet connectivity.

James Dice, one of the "Happy Camp" students, described the new power source as a "significant improvement and much-needed change. Before they were installed, power would regularly go off at least once a day, usually at night", he explained. "After the installation, we didn't need to worry about working around projected power outages."Student Rebecca Quick also found the new power source beneficial and timely. "Luckily, we did not have too much work to do in the beginning of the semester", said Quick. "Having them [solar panels] at the end of the semester was an incredible benefit, with our final exams to study for and huge research papers due."

The students' decision to go green, according to Reinig, is emblematic of the college's practice of environmental stewardship. "Sustainability efforts are important to the St. Mary's College community", Reinig said, "and our students are very active in and vocal about the green efforts here on campus. So, it comes as no surprise that they've made such an environmentally conscious decision, even while abroad."

Student Sam Coe echoed Reinig's sentiment: "I have always thought of 'Happy Camp' as a little piece of St. Mary's in Africa and the solar panels really reinforce that idea", Coe said.

The college expects that the solar power will help create a more comfortable transition for St. Mary's students who will study abroad in The Gambia in the future.

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