First Person: From NRECA to TanzaniaBy Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: November 25th, 2013
Michele Doyle saw many natural wonders in Tanzania, but it was a manmade event that resonated most. In a tiny African village, she witnessed firsthand what many only read about: the arrival of electricity for the first time.
“I was so overjoyed to be even a small part of it. I could not stop crying,” said Doyle, a volunteer with NRECA International Programs. She joined more than 100 villagers and volunteers in a festive ceremony filled with singing and dancing.
“We counted down to flip the switch. Everyone was whooping and hollering and there were ululations and speeches of thanks.”
The festivities were the highlight of Doyle’s week-long October stint at Namnyaki Secondary School for Maasai Girls in Kidewa, Tanzania, where volunteers installed a 600-watt solar energy system.
Doyle won a competition offered to all NRECA staffers to be the first to participate in this program that the association’s International Programs Division hopes to continue in future years.
“I have wanted to help NRECA International Programs since my first week as an employee,” said Doyle, an IT application developer at NRECA for nearly eight years. “Part of me doesn’t have an explanation. …I just felt I had to do this.”
Doyle reached the village from her Virginia home in about two days, following an almost 24-hour flight and a three-day bus ride with one from East Central Energy in Braham, Minn. Also on the bus were volunteers from the Image Project, a humanitarian group, and Fifty Lanterns International, an international solar developer.
Along the way, the group saw giraffes and zebras in Mikumi National Park. Ancient baobab trees, a species native to Africa and Australia, dotted the landscape.
“I heard from one person on the bus that some can be 1,500 years old or even 6,000. They’re also believed to be holding up the sky,” Doyle said of the species nicknamed “upside down trees.”
In Kidewa, Doyle stayed in a housing compound next to the girls’ school. “All the food and water was prepared outdoors in the compound over an open fire,” she said. “Here, you knew exactly where your food came from. No frying, no fats, no extra sugar.”
Doyle spent her days documenting the progress of the solar project and organizing activities for the 30 or so girls. “At some point I gave my camera to the girls and they took some fantastic pictures,” she said.
Above all, Doyle was a friend to the young students. “My job [was] to learn from their struggles and experience. My job [was] to educate those who are unaware of struggles and challenges abroad. And think of challenges in our own backyard.”