UCSD Global Brigades Bring Sustainable Energy To Panama

by Mark Lovett on March 29, 2010

Last fall I had the honor of meeting Jonathan Lee on the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) campus after I finished a presentation on global water issues.  As Chapter President of the Global Environmental Brigades, Jonathan was planning an exciting Brigade mission to Panama in December.  In this guest post, Jonathan Lee talks about the group’s experience.

Global Brigades is a volunteer student-based collaborative that is dedicated to the research, design, and construction of socially responsible, environmentally sustainable solutions to problems in the developing world.  Ultimately, extended relationships between brigades and communities will result in the implementation of a variety of projects, as well as the accumulation of a vast wealth of knowledge from which future students and communities can learn.

Heading To Kuna Yala

Our team of student volunteers, aka “brigaders”, consisted of 16 UCSD undergraduates and alumnus. The primary objective of our week-long project was to install a photovoltaic system and then conduct environmental education sessions at a densely populated island in Kuna Yala of Panama, home to the indigenous Kuna people. The project was developed by the Environmental Brigades Coordinator, who has established a fruitful relationship with the Kuna Cultural Congress as well as various Panamanian environmental organizations that have contributed to the success of this brigade.

“In working with Global Brigades, students have the unique opportunity to not only travel to a foreign country to take on projects that have a direct impact on the quality of life of local communities, but also gain valuable hands-on experience not found in the classroom.”

Installing the Solar Panels

Renewable Island Energy

The solar panels were installed on the school rooftop on the island of Nusatupu.  The electricity generated will power lights not only in the school, but also in the congressional building where important meetings are held for community discussions addressing political and social issues.

This project allows the Kunas to not rely on unsustainable power sources such as batteries or diesel powered generators for their electrical needs, while at the same time significantly reducing the amount of toxic pollutants, such as lead, cadmium, and carbon monoxide released into their surroundings.  These substances can adversely contaminate the environment and leak into the Kuna’s food and water supplies to negatively affect their health.

The Joy of Solar Energy

The Importance Of Education

The Brigaders also spent time introducing basic concepts effects of climate change, water and nutrient cycles, as well as the importance of waste reduction to both the kids and adults.  Last, but not least, an informative workshop was held to teach the Kunas how the photovoltaic system functions and about basic diagnostic procedures in the event of a failure.  This brigade also serves as an initial assessment of the Kunas’ other environmental and social needs through observations and discussion in the community.

Even though the Kunas are traditionally known to be conservationists who genuinely value the richness of their land, it is Global Environmental Brigades’ goal and hope that the current as well as future generations will gain a fresh perspective of their natural environment and the imminent weather shifts through the educational activities that were implemented.

The Power Of Friendship

Anna Pasternak with Kuna Villager

And because the group was not there as tourists, but as Brigaders who embarked into Kuna Yala with the priority of making culturally sensitive and sustainable positive change, the Kuna people embraced the outsiders warmly with open minds, a display of their rich culture & traditions, and even a journey to a sacred area deep in the rainforest.

It was a time of immense cultural exchanges, spectacularly gorgeous scenery, as well as hands on learning experience in an environment that magically promotes awareness of natural systems and the anthropogenic responsibility in maintaining such delicate balance. The implementation of this project took place over a one week period in December 2009. The entire project will evolve into two or three brigades, and the expected return periods are June and December 2010.

For more information, read the full trip report here.

Global Brigades Project Overview

  • Project Title: “Sustainable Energy” Project
  • University: University of California, San Diego
  • Student Group: 16 (UCSD) + 2 (Panama)
  • Initiatives: Photovoltaic System Installation
  • Environmental Education
  • Capital Investment: $1,500.00
  • Dates: December 13–20th, 2009
  • Community: Nusatupu, Comarca Kuna Yala
  • Brigade Coordinator: Anna Pasternak
  • Club President: Jonathan Lee
  • Partnership: Congreso General de la Cultura Kuna
  • Future Project(s): Summer (and Winter) 2010
  • Waste Management & Disposal
  • Climate Change Education & Response

Winter 2009 UCSD Global Environmental Brigaders

  • Anna Pasternak – Waili
  • Santiago Giraldo – Iguayadikili
  • Jonathan Lee – Manikepe
  • Lucas Puttock – Maninubdili
  • Natasha Ferrer-Perez – Akwanubdili
  • Acacia Overoye – Dinubdili
  • Daniela Kent – Iguanadilli
  • Christianna Savino – Bunaoloyodikili
  • Rebecca Hasegawa – Maninadili
  • Saki Hashimoto – Iguananubdilli
  • Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat – Awkwa Nubdili
  • Hanson Cao – Iguadipe
  • Angeline Ta – Inanadili
  • Jacqueline Sikkema – Nabasanudili
  • Hannah Schnitzler – Olonubdili
  • Aaron Lineback – Olokepre
  • Atalani Jackson – Olanadilli
  • Kristin Wong – Inakipe

UCSD’s Global Environmental Brigaders are, without question, Global Patriots!

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