Company Gives Back: Road Trips and Solar Installation in East Africa

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A week ago I returned from Africa with many stories to share. I spent ten days of that trip driving through Uganda and Rwanda with 27 employees of Northland Controls, a company that travels to a new destination every two years for what they call the Northland Challenge. I had no idea what I was in for, but it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Learn more about Fund: Solar Challenge, a partnership with Northland Controls Systems, Inc. to improve living conditions for children and convert 100 family homes to solar energy in Rwanda.

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Northland reached out to us at Firelight because for this challenge, they wanted to find a way to give back. Before the trip, the challenge participants raised $50,000 to support two of Firelight’s partner organizations in Rwanda, and that amount continues to grow. I was immediately impressed by the dedication and commitment to reaching their goal. Not only did they raise money, but they wanted to get their hands dirty too. One of the challenge days would involve installing solar panels at a school in rural Rwanda, which will allow the school to be a tremendous resource for a community that lacks electricity.

On the installation day, we woke up early and had planned to drive to the site. We soon learned that the road had been washed out and that we would have to hike. Everyone went with the flow, hiking for an hour and a half until we reached the school. I watched as members of the Northland team climbed up a handmade ladder, onto a flimsy tin roof, and began working diligently and collaboratively. They worked all day in the heat and intermittent torrential rain, installing panels and wiring the building until the vision became a reality; a light switch was flipped and the room was illuminated! I was so incredibly impressed and touched by all the planning and hard work that had gone into this, and seeing the result was awesome.

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Aside from the solar project, we had some epic adventures and a whole lot of fun. Every morning Pierre, the challenge leader and CEO of Northland, gave each team of two a list of challenges for the day and we went on an East African scavenger hunt of sorts. The first, and most nerve racking challenge for me was driving on the left side of the road. My challenge partner, Cesar, and I both had a few moments of forgetting which country we were in, and inadvertently playing chicken with some very large trucks. These temporary lapses aside, we managed to drive successfully and safely to our destinations each day. My favorite of these destinations was the campsite where we slept on our third night in Uganda. It was in the middle of a national park where we happened to be sleeping in an area that was home to dozens of hippos. I woke up before the sun to the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard, and the kind of rain I’ve only ever seen in Africa. The thunder was the only thing that drowned out the morning hippo calls as they made their way down to the water.

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Pierre kept a thoroughly entertaining log of our progress on his blog, which I recommend you read. I couldn’t feel more fortunate or grateful to have been invited on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Not only did I get to experience new and challenging things every day, I got to do it in the company of a group of tremendously generous, gracious, hilarious, and adventurous people. THANK YOU!

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Cesar Bonilla, a Northland Employee, and Firelight staffer Amanda Hill take a selfie on the road.


Tagged as: Rwanda, Uganda