EastBay Today

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Posted July 31, 2018

Solar Warriors

Cal State East Bay solar suitcase program partners with Native American tribes, organizations nationwide

Professor Karina Garbesi leads a solar suitcase workshop in Hoopa Valley, California for Native American youth and tribal organizations.

Several Cal State East Bay students, alumni and professors spent a week in Hoopa, California earlier this month as part of the university’s Social Solar Impact Project.

Professor Karina Garbesi and associate professor Erik Helgren piloted their Social Impact Solar program in a physics-environmental studies hybrid course in fall 2015 in partnership with the organization We Care Solar’s “We Share Solar” program.  Sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the program allows students to learn about solar energy design for social impact by building stand-alone solar power and lighting systems called “solar suitcases" which are sent to energy-impoverished schools and orphanages around the world.

The summer workshop included the collaboration of several representatives from the Hoopa Valley Tribal leadership, Hoopa Valley High School and other Native American leadership from across the country including Trees, Water and People as well as Ben Soce, lead experiential educator for the National Indian Youth Leadership Project in New Mexico.

During the multi-day workshop, participants learned the basics of the solar suitcase technology and paired up to construct several suitcases, which will serve as inspiration for similar programs throughout the country. Many expressed feeling empowered and a commitment to continue learning more about solar technology and sustainable energy.

“We are interested in introducing these concepts to Native children,” Soce said. “[Solar energy] goes back to the old ways of thinking, the idea that we can’t take resources for granted.”

He added he’s hopeful bringing the solar suitcase program to the youth at NIYLP will also open them to the possibility of pursuing solar-related careers.

The Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation has a population of 3,040 residents according to the 2000 census.

“I think the experimental portion [of the workshop] will inspire them to do something with energy while also solidifying the idea that the environment is their responsibility and they have the power to change not just themselves, but the world,” Soce said.

Eriq Acosta, national director for Trees, Water and People said he sees the suitcase program as a way to empower indigenous youth who struggle with generational trauma, and give them not only job skills, but a sense of accomplishment.

“Healing has to be community led, you can’t just take the suitcases to a community and leave them there, [this program] challenges youth spiritually, emotionally and physically,” he said. “We are building solar warriors.”

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