Carly Lettero has been around the world, and traveling is something she views as one of her skills. Exploring the world has made her compassionate in the face of inequalities she’s witnessed, and has compelled her to make a difference.
At Oregon State University, her work is focused on managing the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, which aspires to respond creatively and effectively to the world’s emergency call for new or better ideas about how we might live wisely, justly and sustainably. In her spare time, Lettero is passionate about finding ways to bring sustainable energy to places where electricity of any sort is a precious commodity. And this summer, she and her husband will join nearly a dozen other people with the same goal as they transport a school bus to Ghana, and bring solar power to 10 villages there.
Hear Lettero speak at TRIAD meeting
At the April 11 meeting of Triad, OSU’s faculty and staff club, Carly and David Lettero will describe their project to install solar energy systems on medical clinics and schools in Ghana. Triad meets in the MU, room 109A, from noon to 1 p.m. Guests are welcome to attend free of charge and pay $11 if they have lunch. Contact Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783, to save a seat.
The Solarize Ghana project is under the umbrella of the Volunteers for International Development and Aid (VIDA) an organization started a few years ago by some of Lettero’s friends. Two years ago, she and her husband, Dave traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to install solar panels on a community center and a school. Dave has volunteered with VIDA since 2010, helping them design solar installations for various projects, but this was his first international trip.
“Dave went through serious culture shock when we got to Sierra Leone, but we really worked together as a team,” Lettero said. “He has the technical expertise to install off-grid solar, and I have the travel experience to help us appreciate what is going on culturally.”
It also demonstrated to the couple what could go right, and wrong, with such a project. When their minivan broke down with 10 people inside on the way to one of the locations, Lettero began picturing a better way to transport solar equipment, and then her mind landed on an old schoolbus the couple had purchased, along with friends, a few years ago to transport people for several weddings.
“It was a fun thing we had, and we wanted to give it new life,” she said. So when they returned home, Lettero started talking with her friends at VIDA about the bus project.
“Instead of telling me I was crazy, they got really excited,” she said.
In order to identify appropriate locations for solar power installations in Ghana, the Letteros worked alongside the organization Disaster Volunteers of Ghana, and director Richard Yinkah. The organization linked them with community leaders in ten villages who had directly requested solar power for six schools and four medical clinics. Installing solar power at the schools will double the amount of time the buildings can be open, allowing them to be used for night school, literacy classes or other community events. Additionally, the schools can now install fans, allowing the students to study in more comfort.
At the medical clinics, the solar installations will free them from depending on generators, allowing them to save money on diesel fuel that they can then use elsewhere. It also allows them to expand the hours of the clinics, and in some cases, allows nurses to stay in the clinics overnight to take of patients and remain safe.
So far, the Solarize Ghana project has raised $120,000, with another $40,000 to go before they ship the bus in May. The 10-member team, which includes five Ghanians, will spend three months, beginning in June, working on the 10 projects.
The team includes engineers, writers, and even a documentary film team. Lettero said the mix of people reflects the kind of work she does on a daily basis with the environmental humanities.
“It really blends the sciences and the humanities well,” she said. They even had a Portland artist, Chris Rice, paint murals on the bus depicting how solar energy works.
“Adding the art piece brings it to life,” she said.
VIDA is now actively gathering donations for the Solarize Ghana project. $5 can add a light switch to a classroom, while $50 can help procure LED bulbs for clinics. Solar batteries for $1,000 will keep schools and clinics powered on rainy days, while a vaccine refrigerator for $2,000 will provide life-saving medications and vaccines for rural communities.
~ Theresa Hogue