An INSPIRATIONAL Edinburgh Napier student is travelling to Kenya to provide electricity to a rural primary school.
Robert Turnbull (22), first met the pupils and staff of Nado Enterite Primary in 2010 when he spent 8 weeks teaching there as part of a charity project.
So eager to help improve conditions at the school, on his return from Africa, Robert dropped out of plans to study Economics at University and instead started an engineering course.
He said: “I didn’t think I would be that useful to anyone in this current climate with a degree in Economics and wanted to be able to help other people.”
Now in his third year, studying Energy and Environmental Engineering, he will return to the Kenyan village in January to install a 400 watt solar PV system.
The technology will supply uninterrupted power to the school for the first time.
South-African born Robert said: “The school has been relying on an old, oil generator for power. The fuel is expensive and it breaks down constantly, meaning the staff have to call out an engineer to come and fix it which takes ages and is really costly.
“When the fuel runs out the parents are asked for money to buy more. Most families can’t afford to pay for school lunches never mind oil, so it will make a huge difference having a free power source.”
Three-hundred youngsters from the age of 5 to 18 study at the school which lies in the which lies in Kajiado district, south of Nairobi.
The new solar power system will replace a smaller 80 watt panel which Robert installed back in the summer.
Robert, who also works part-time in Tesco, said: “I paid for my flights myself but held an Indian meal in a local restaurant as a fundraiser, collecting about £460 for the equipment for the initial solar PV system and to pay a local family to host me.
“It gives the school two hours of light a day which means they can hold revision night-classes. Before, the classes would be cancelled if the generator failed or ran out of fuel, which was pretty common.”
In the Kenyan education system children must pass exams before progressing to High School. The night-classes can prove essential in helping youngsters meet the minimum criteria as many can’t make day-time lessons as they are forced to care for sick relatives or to work to help bring in money for their families.
For his next visit in the New Year, Robert has secured a number of grants to pay for the solar power-system’s upgrade.
Edinburgh Napier’s Student Grant Initiative has awarded Robert £700 while the University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction is covering the £563 transport costs.
He said: “I hope the new system will help the school eventually make an income too. They will be able to allow locals to charge their mobile phones at the site for a small fee.
“The energy will also power a new plug socket. My intention is to get the school a radio to plug in. The government broadcasts some school lessons on a national radio station, so older members of the community can come and learn here too”.
Edinburgh Napier Engineering lecturer Dr. Tom Grassie said: “It is really great to see Robert using what he is learning here to benefit others. He is a really motivated student and a credit to himself and to the University.”
Robert will fly out to Africa on the 5th January before returning to Edinburgh on 19th January.