2 students from San Jose high school win Kenya trip to provide solar suitcases from PG&E


By Harvey I. Barkin

SAN JOSE – Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company recently announced the two student winners from Independence High School of an all-expenses 12-day trip to Kenya in February next year.

Amy Hua and Kyle Mondina were chosen by their school as delegates to bring a portable solar suitcase to the African nation. Independence was among 19 schools to participate in PG&E’s Solar Suitcase program under its Better Together Giving classroom grants.

The other participating high schools were: North High School in Bakersfield, Delta Vista in Byron, Inspire School of Arts & Sciences in Chico, Buchanan in Clovis, Jefferson in Daly City, Madera South in Madera, Skyline and Oakland Technical both in Oakland, Sonoma Mountain and Carpe Diem both in Petaluma, Pinole Valley in Pinole, Rio Americano in Sacramento, Lincoln in San Francisco, Seaside in Seaside, Templeton in Templeton, Tracy in Tracy, Upper Lake in Upper Lake and Winters in Winters.

According to PG&E San Jose Division Leader Don Hall, the Solar Suitcase program was part of the $25 million grant to central and northern California schools “to explore and learn renewable energy sources and to invite (the students) to become environmental stewards and to give back meaningfully to the global community.”

Each of the 19 schools were given about $8,000 worth of equipment (including more than 100 solar suit cases) and professional development training from We Share Solar. The project involved more than 1,000 California students and the solar suitcases are intended to light the living spaces of about 2,400 Kenyans.

The Solar Suitcase is a 15-amp modular photovoltaic system that can be expanded and can accommodate up to 200 watts of power from solar panels and a 100 amp per hour sealed battery.

That much power can light up a small room, charge a cell phone for several hours and power a refrigerator. The Solar Suitcase will help augment power requirements in schools, orphanages and even small businesses in Kenya.

It also makes U.S. students realize that in some parts of the world, the only other night lighting options are candles, oil lamps and non-renewable and costly battery-operated devices.

Independence High School submitted one of the award-winning videos put together by students, school staff and others. The video documented a local environmental and sustainable project to benefit their community.

The short video Sustainable Compost Bin featured the school team digging out earth worms to hasten decomposition, building a wire fence and soliciting the help of the school grounds’ gardeners. The students in the team dedicated some of their Saturdays and Sundays to finish the project.

Independence teacher Jordan Stone, Hall, Council member (and Independence alumni) Karla Rodriguez Lomax and Council member Manh Nguyen’s rep Robert Busson gave each member of the school’s solar suitcase team certificates. Aside from Hua and Mondina, the other students who worked on the project were: Kevin Abad, Akshath Aravindakshan, Jonathan Basto, Joseph Doan, Rowell Domingo, Isaiah Fimbrez, Sarah Fong, Marinel Garan, Quan Kuo, Vincent Lakilak, Esteban Llaneza, David Ly, Kenneth Nguyen, Zyril Rodas, Samantha Salomon, Ashlynn Steen, Andy Tran, Peter Truong, Dallin Vu and Kevin Yu.
Junior Mondina, 16, who came from the Philippines in 2013 said he just liked the idea of building a solar suitcase to “help students in Kenya who have to study away from home” because of power inadequacies.

He also said that Kenya “would be a perfect opportunity for me to learn about (the needs of) a third world country just like the Philippines.”

Mondina wants to be an engineer but he still has to figure out what kind. He was “happy and surprised that I was picked. I never really expected this.”

This is the second year that PG&E provided more than 100 Solar Suitcases to schools. The non-profit We Share Solar trained the students in assembling the suitcases and the basics of clean energy. Stone will chaperone Hua and Mondina to Kenya with the international non-profit WE Charity.