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Reducing Energy Poverty

Reducing Energy Poverty – One Solar Installation at a Time. 

Nathan Thomas's project vision and commitment to service demonstrate the potential of the next generation of Rotary. In 2009, inspired by the work of Rev. Dr. Renee Waun, Nathan - at the age of 16 - started collecting used computers from friends, family and his local community and sending them villages in Uganda in need of technology, laying the groundwork for All We Are’s continued focus on educational access.  His initial work was supported by the Rotary Club of Findlay, Ohio, USA. Yet only age 26, he has been bringing innovative community compatible tech- based solutions to support education in Uganda for 10 years through All We Are, a 501(c)(3).

After Nathan's graduation from the University of Cincinnati in June 2015, he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and joined the Rotary Club of Raleigh Midtown, a “new generation” club. Since then Nathan has served as their president (third youngest in Rotary history), served D7710 as membership development chair and is the incoming District International Service Chair. He is clearly passionate about sharing his Rotary experience with other people. The CFO of All We Are, is also a member of Nathan’s new generation club, 

Since joining Rotary, Nathan has connected with clubs (video link) in his district and across America resulting in access to renewable energy for 28 Ugandan schools and health centers. The Rotary Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, located near the alma mater of many members of the All We Are team, was a major partner at the outset. The initial Host club, the Rotary Club of Nateete Kampala, Uganda has a Solarize Uganda Now [SUN] Committee.  

The cost of an installation is around $5000.  Each school and Health Center makes a “sustainability payment” - a 10%  cash contribution from local community spread across three payments. The local sustainability payment connects the community to the site and the project transactions and creates a sense of ownership. Especially in government schools, the headmasters are too mobile to have a personal stake in helping the project succeed, so community engagement is key to continuity. As an example of how the project motivates community engagement, while seeking local community partners, the SUN project approved five schools to have solar installations on their roofs, but the roof at a sixth school was not sound enough to support the solar panels. That school’s community rallied, raised the money, fixed the roof and the school qualified next time around. 



All We Are, is now a partner to the the RC Raleigh Midtown's global grant to bring solar power to operate wells at health clinics in Uganda, and also electrify schools. The process of completing a Community Needs Assessment (now required by The Rotary Foundation as a part of any Global Grant application) helped the project connect with local governmental offices and develop on the ground knowledge. About 25% of the D7710 clubs have supported the Solarization campaign by giving money and in kind support, with donations ranging from $500 to 20,000. 

One key to the success of the SUN project is that All We Are has drawn from the local Ugandan community and built a young knowledgeable, energetic team with operations manager and techs, on the ground, well trained and functioning. Installations require a 5-10 person team that uses the All We Are team vehicle, customized for that purpose. 

It is hard to get in-kind sweat equity for maintenance because the members of the local community are not willing and not trained. Furthermore, Nathan was unwilling to ask a Ugandan school to do more than one would ask of USA school. It unrealistic to ask teachers to climb on roofs to maintain the panels. That’s why part of the SUN program is to send locally trained maintenance tech to the SUN solar panel installations four times per year for site visits to inspect, clean the panels and make any necessary adjustment.  The technician, each working alone are reimbursed for travel costs and food. 

All We Are, consistent with TRF’s requirements is committed to local sourcing for materials, supplies and labor. As the Solarization program evolves, All We Are aims to build the solar installation and maintenance teams of the future by engaging with Secondary Students to enroll and engage them to become the next generation of solar entrepreneurs, hopefully training women to be installers and technicians as well.  Uganda like so many African countries has a very rudimentary transportation system and road network, so that a major cost is getting the installers, supplies and maintenance crews to the sites.  For example, the food budget for a training day for 300 potential installers was less than the transportation costs. 

For more information or to support ending energy poverty, one solar installation at a time, contact nathan (at) allweare dot org.