One grant, two Weatherhead undergraduate students and the desire to make an impact on the world.
That’s all it took for Kareem Agag and Aayush Parikh, both senior economics majors, to change the lives of students in a small rural town in India this summer.
As Great Lakes Energy Institute Fellows, Agag and Parikh shared a common interest in renewable energy, specifically microgrids. Through a generous grant from Projects for Peace, an initiative that encourages undergraduates across the country to design grassroots projects that are implemented throughout the world during the summer, Agag and Parikh were able to turn their research project into a reality.
“We already had our technology because of our time as Great Lakes Energy Institute Fellows, and Projects for Peace seemed like a great initiative that was very in line with our goals, so we decided to apply,” Agag said.
Following a two-part submission, the Weatherhead students were notified that their project, Solar Energy to Impact Quality of Life, was selected as the winner of the grant.
After receiving the grant, Agag and Parikh had to choose the region of India in which they would focus their research efforts.
“Through family and friends who live in and travel to India, we learned about Jawhar, a group of villages a few hours outside of Mumbai with a severe electricity and water problem in the schools,” said Agag. “We knew that the best first step to bringing the schools into the 21st century would be to make them energy dependent.”
For five weeks over the summer of 2019, Agag and Parikh, along with two other team members from outside universities, worked to implement their project. Solar Energy to Impact Quality of Life aimed to provide the schools of Jawhar with the basic human necessities in accordance with the United Nations sustainable development goals. The primary goal was to provide non-intermittent clean energy, via solar power, to the community school and enable the community to operate and maintain the electricity infrastructure.
During those five weeks, the team encountered several challenges that they did not anticipate, like language barriers, technical troubles and even monsoon season.
“Around the halfway point, we were extremely worried that we wouldn’t be able to complete the implementation,” Agag said. “It had been raining for nearly a week straight and there had been a small landslide that made it hard to reach the school. We needed the rain to stop in order to install the solar panels and the road to be cleared so the truck with the panels and other equipment could reach the school.”
The team had to adapt and change their plans. While they waited for the rain to let up, they took the time to meet members of the community. The following week, the weather cooperated and installation continued.
Besides the lack of electricity and lighting issues that the villages faced, the team noticed another problem: unfiltered water. Agag said providing electricity in the schools allowed them to solve a problem they didn’t even know existed by providing filters to clean the water.
Agag, Parikh and the rest of the team wanted to include an educational component to their visit. The team spoke to students in the villages about renewable energy, the importance of clean water and other topics to help them understand the significance of what was done in their schools.
Because of the research and dedication from the team, coupled with the generous Projects for Peace grant, three schools in the region of Jawhar have electricity, clean water, proper ventilation and a system of cooling. Agag and Parikh hope their contribution leads to a more modern and complete education, which will encourage students to pursue a higher level of education.
“It is very rare that such an eye-opening experience like this comes around where we get to see a reality so different from our own and get to do something to help,” Agag said. “It was an incredible experience to have positively impacted the lives of so many people.”