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Powering Opportunity with Solar Energy



Ryan Holt outside in a hat with a smiling child in a red sweater sitting on his shoulder.
In Pucaccasa, Ryan found time to play with the village children.

Last year, when I joined the Security Business Group, I learned about the Time2Give benefit. The program encourages employees to give back to a cause that matters to them. The concept resonated with me, and I knew I wanted to participate.

Today, I am thrilled to share my Time2Give experience that not only enriched my life but allowed me to make a lifelong impact on those living in the community of Pucaccasa, Peru.

Early in 2023, during my last semester at the University of Calgary, I learned about Light Up The World (LUTW), a charity founded by Dr. Dave Irvine-Halliday.

While on sabbatical in Nepal, he saw firsthand the locals’ harsh living conditions. They relied heavily on kerosene lamps for light, which are often insufficient and emit toxic smoke, polluting their living environment. Through this experience, he sought to bring safe, affordable, and sustainable lighting to the developing world.

Later, LUTW expanded its mission to Peru, where many communities live off-grid due to the formidable Andes, sprawling deserts, dense rainforests, widespread settlements, and economic struggles.

Here, they collaborate with local governments to run projects focusing on installing solar energy systems in remote communities. They also ensure these systems are sustainable in the long term by hiring and training locals to maintain them.

A group of smiling people installing a solar panel on a sunny hill.
The volunteers have a bit of fun as they install a solar panel.

After learning about LUTW and its mission, I knew I wanted to participate in one of these projects. Of course, I would travel to an unfamiliar, remote location, work in a language I didn't speak, and collaborate with people I'd never met.

It was a leap out of my comfort zone. So I signed up.

Fast-forward to June 2023, we arrived in the village of Pucaccasa, home to more than 120 community members, including 40 enthusiastic kids and their two devoted teachers.

We aimed to install a microgrid to bring power and light to the community and all its educational centers. We had a team of 11 volunteers from the University of Calgary, along with the committed members of LUTW and the local community.

Our days were filled with relentless effort to set up a 2.2-kilowatt peak solar panel system, a five-kilowatt-hour battery, and systems for energy conversion, charge management, and monitoring.

The goal was to create a system robust enough to power electronic devices and various tools essential for educational, recreational, and community activities.

The village was our home for three nights as we immersed ourselves in the local culture and lifestyle.

Each day, we spent invaluable moments interacting with the local schoolchildren. We played games together and got to see what their day-to-day life was really like. Access to essential services, like water and electricity, was limited. Most children had to walk 30-60 minutes to attend school.

A small group of brown houses line a dirt road on a hillside.
Perched at 3,800 meters (about 12,467 feet) in the Andes, Pucaccasa sits in an optimal climate for solar energy.
Children in Andean clothing and adults in volunteer hats stand near solar panels.
Villagers and volunteers stand by the new solar panels.
Five children in colorful clothes stand beside a large mechanical box in a classroom.
Village children with the newly installed solar energy system in their classroom.
Ryan and another man stand with four children on their shoulders between them.
Ryan having fun with the local children.

One unforgettable interaction stands out from our final day in Pucaccasa. With the system fully up and running, we found ourselves surrounded by the children’s delighted faces.

Amid the joy, one of the volunteers asked,“Por qué estás feliz?” (Why are you happy?)

One of the children answered, “Porque hay luz.” (Because there is light.)

It was a powerful moment that highlighted just how transformative this project would be for their futures.

Along with the energy system, LUTW helped the local government equip the school with an internet connection and several low-cost laptops. That would have never been possible before.

As someone who earns a living writing software, the thought that these resources might inspire them or open doors of opportunity in the future was amazing. And as a citizen of Canada, where reliable electricity is a given, it was a humbling and empowering experience to share this privilege with the community of Pucaccasa.

I strongly encourage my Cisco colleagues to use their Time2Give. Dedicate your time and skills to a cause that resonates with you and make a difference in your community.

It may seem daunting. I was certainly apprehensive when I first signed up. But ultimately, the impact you create and the joy you experience outweigh any initial fears.

I'm excited to share that LUTW is planning a general volunteer trip for 2024 and is actively seeking volunteers. This is a fantastic opportunity to contribute to a meaningful cause. If interested, you can find more information and sign up.

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