See a problem. Find a solution. Fix it. This pioneering spirit still resides deep in the heart of Texans today. It certainly moved me to act 10 years ago when the United Methodist Committee on Relief asked me to help bring electricity to Ganta Hospital in Liberia.
After fourteen years of civil war, Liberia was ravaged and poverty-stricken. One casualty of the war was the hospital, which was struggling without electricity while trying to rebuild. The dedicated hospital staff worked hard to serve 24,000 patients a year, but surgeons were typically forced to finish operations with flashlights in their mouths, often without anesthesia equipment.
I was a successful Texas businessman with decades of experience working with U.S. electric power systems. Saying yes to the relief committee began a journey with eight other Texans that would start us all on our true God-given purpose in life, and which continues to this day.
Looking back, we have been able to bring a lot of light to some of the world’s poorest areas. To put it in perspective, here is the work we have done over the last ten years by the numbers:
100 solar panels
My team, called Power From the SON, has installed solar generation in Liberia and Honduras. We evaluate solar, biofuels and diesel to determine the most effective generation source for the recipients of our systems. Evaluating factors include their operating cost and their ability to maintain the system. During installation, we need a lot of help from the people that will be using and operating the systems. Their help during installation ensures they will understand and be able to maintain the systems after we return home. However, we continue to visit places where we have installed systems and help them with additions, problems and education.
11 miles of underground cable
Our electric systems use underground wires that go from the generators to buildings. We install the wires underground even though it costs more for the wire. But it is safer for the people in those remote areas as it is not subject to storm damage, and the local people can be of great help in digging the trenches for our cable.
Some have been small and weigh about 20 pounds but, on our first job, we used a transformer that weighed as much as a pickup truck. To unload this monster of steel, copper wire and oil in Liberia, we had to enlist the help of a Bangladesh United Nations peacekeeping battalion that just happened to be near the hospital we were trying to electrify.
127,200 pounds of material
Equipment to build electric systems has been delivered by truck and shipping containers to Liberia, Honduras and Sierra Leone to give the gift of electricity to people who need help the most.
Each project has required its own unique design, and therefore we have to customize the type and number of items we plan to use. Items range from small washers to big transformers or specialized switchgear.
460 kilowatts of electricity
This is enough electricity to serve about 150 homes in the United States during normal conditions. Power From the SON has provided systems that will generate and distribute electricity to hospitals, orphanages, seminaries and schools. We’ve also distributed electricity to their homes and other important buildings. Air conditioners are rare where we serve, so most of the power is used for lighting, fans, and providing power for computers in schools so learning hungry students can open the world by using the internet.
Power From the Son has provided electricity to almost 100 buildings. Our first project in Liberia was a hospital where we provided electricity to 52 buildings.
1,091 football fields
Our projects have ranged in size from schools that occupy a few acres to other projects that seem as big as Texas. It takes a lot of shoveling to dig the trenches, a lot of wire to serve everyone, and it is a long way to move reels of wire that can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
During the 10 years Power From the SON has been providing power to some of the world’s most needy, we have had a total of 61 volunteers make the trips to help with the installations. Most of them are veterans of more than one trip. We normally have 7-10 people assist on-site. The 61 don’t include a large number of volunteers in the U.S. that help make the trips a reality. When possible, we finish two projects on one trip, such as the mission to Honduras this last August. Among our volunteers helping with construction are engineers, electricians, dentists, doctors, lawyers, students and stay-at-home moms. Of course, we couldn’t finish our work with only the people who come with us. We love working with local people and they are essential for us to complete our projects.
This is the amount these systems would have cost if they had been installed in the United States. Our generous donors have provided material, labor and financial support to make it possible to provide electricity to some of the neediest people in the world. The local people donate their time and hard work so they can help themselves improve their standard of living.
This is an estimate of the number of people touched by Power From the SON’s electrical projects. It’s hard to judge, but the first project was a hospital that served 24,000 people a year. It seems logical that many of them would have been cooled by fans while waiting to see the doctor, or their life was saved by the addition of air conditioning in an operating room. Those students in Honduras that have access to the internet, and have now been accepted to a college, were touched.
Electricity, if properly maintained, can be a gift to several generations. It can provide light to read and the internet to open the world. It can help a caregiver in an orphanage save the life of a child having a seizure during the night. It can provide power to medical diagnostic equipment to save lives, and it can be used to power sewing machines or roast coffee beans that will improve the standard of living for families.
Electricity improves life.
Cover photo courtesy Steve Vincent
Steve Vincent is a native Texan and the author of When Faith Lights the Way: The Quest to Restore Electricity to a War Ravaged African Hospital, a book detailing the team’s experiences planning and building their first and most challenging project. Vincent was a successful businessman whose first career spanned 34 years in the electric utility industry. In his second career, his efforts have been redirected to provide state-of-the-art electric systems to the neediest people in the world. Vincent has a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Texas A&M University.