Bringing light, and life, to East Africa

TCNJ students stand with members of Zanzibar Outreach Program and Mikunguni Youth Development Organization in Zanzibar in front of the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, the site of their second installation of a solar-powered suitcase.
TCNJ students stand with members of Zanzibar Outreach Program and Mikunguni Youth Development Organization in Zanzibar in front of the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, the site of their second installation of a solar-powered suitcase.

In many developing countries, large numbers of large numbers of women die during childbirth because they lack access to health clinics with reliable electricity.

To confront this widespread energy poverty in one East African nation, Professor Marla Jaksch and students in her Gender and Development in Tanzania class delivered and installed solar suitcases to off-grid medical and health facilities. “The portable devices can be used to power critical lighting, mobile communication devices, and medical devices in low resource areas without reliable electricity,” allowing clinics to provide “timely and appropriate emergency care, [thereby] reducing maternal and infant morbidity and mortality,” according to the manufacturer, We Care Solar.

Jaksch, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies, was a well-seasoned guide for the students: a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, she previously taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and has been bringing students to the country since 2006.

“Working alongside a faculty member and seeing her almost 24/7 was a great experience,” Madhoo Rao, a junior math major who took part in the experience, said. “[Professor Jaksch] knows a lot about Tanzania and its culture, people, and the different issues the country [faces]. As a result, we were all able to get an inside look and grasp onto concepts and issues quickly.”

In one of the communities to which the TCNJ contingent brought power, the students collaborated on the suitcase installation with Maasai women, members of a semi-nomadic tribe. Despite the cultural barriers, the two groups worked together efficiently, Rao said. Later that night, a Maasai woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy with the help of the newly installed solar suitcase.

“It was awesome to know that that was what we were helping…that maternal health in these communities is going to improve” because of the efforts of TCNJ students and faculty, Rao said.

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