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Solar lights allow education in Africa

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

The faces of African orphans lit up in happiness, illuminated in the darkness by the glow of small solar lights provided by Kim and Jason Pineau.

Before heading on their three-week trip to Tanzania, Orillia native Kim and her husband Jason canvassed family, friends and colleagues for funding to help make a difference in the lives of Tanzanians.

The couple, who live near Whitby, raised $1,100, which they used to purchase 55 solar lights to give to children in an orphanage in Tanzania.

"We wanted to help and make a difference and do something that's meaningful," Kim Pineau said. "Even in that small way, we wanted to give back."

The largest issue in the majority of Tanzanian communities is the lack of electricity. Without solar lights, children can't continue their studies after dark.

"Things won't change unless people are educated," Pineau said. "People get educated about AIDS and nutrition and they can further their schooling and get better jobs."

Pineau heard about the solar light program from friend and fellow Twin Lakes Secondary School graduate Dennis Tessier.

Since 2007, Tessier has been working with an organization called Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) -- Africa, a Tanzanian registered non-political, non-profit organization.

The organization's goal is to develop Tanzania by introducing renewable energy technologies suitable for Africa, Tessier said via email.

Those technologies include a compact biogas system using food waste, solar systems, charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste, and improved cookstoves.

"To the average Canadian, it must sound pretty over the top, but in rural villages, a single solar light in a mud hut after 7 p.m. is a profound leap forward," Tessier said.

Seeing the reactions of the youth is one of the best parts of the job, he said.

"Watching the faces of students when they turn on the lights for the first time in their lives gives you such a feeling of accomplishment," Tessier said. "It's giving these kids a fighting chance... It's giving them light to study."

The organization began with personal funding, but now generates income from training and selling some of the products they promote.

ARTI-Africa is working on a project called Waste to Wealth which will train and equip 1,800 Tanzanians in four districts on how to produce and market sustainable charcoal briquettes.

The goal is to target charcoal producers who cut down forests for firewood and instead get them to create charcoal from agricultural waste.

The effort could reduce approximately 125,000 hectares of deforestation annually.

"The problem is, how do you convince a poor person to change his or her habits if all they're thinking about is where they will get their next meal from?" Tessier said.

Food, education, medicine are important to "poor people," while global warming, deforestation and soil degradation are not, he said.

"We quickly realized that in order to help the environm e nt, it has to first help people," Tessier said. "Once people see there is an economical benefit, then they quickly learn to appreciate the environment."

Tessier hasn't moved away from Tanzania since 2003 when he arrived to study for his masters in development studies.

Having Kim and Jason Pineau visit, see what life is like there and support his cause was an "amazing experience."

"I find it really difficult when I go home to Canada to explain to friends and family why I have chosen to live in Africa," Tessier said. "When Kim and Jason came, I was able to share that with them and they were really able to appreciate how much a country like Tanzania has to offer the world."

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