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Recharging The Gambia

While there is certainly celestial beauty in complete darkness, the lack of light—more specifically, power—poses a hardship for those in remote regions of developing countries. There are few industries that aren’t touched by technology; the cell phone is a crucial communication and commerce tool even for rural farmers. To keep these devices charged, some villagers in The Republic of Gambia must literally get ‘mobile’ with a nearly two-mile trek to use the nearest generator-fueled power source, a service that costs about 10 percent of a typical weekly income. Elizabethtown College engineering and business students think there’s a better way.  

“During the night, the whole village is completely dark. But, because of no power, the stars are very shiny, like diamonds on black velvet.”
--Danni Qiao

Guided by Kurt DeGoede, professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics, students enrolled in a cocurricular, project-based course are working to provide affordable, solar-powered cell phone chargers to residents of an area devoid of readily available power outlets. Engineering students developed and tested a prototype solar-powered device—a low-cost photovoltaic mobile phone charger—that would fully charge phones right from their rural locations. Meanwhile, the business students created a sustainable social business plan that will, ultimately, be turned over to a local Gambian nonprofit to bring the product to market. The 2013-2014 academic year marked the second offering of the course—the most recent team built on their predecessors’ efforts. 

A related 2014 Winter Break study tour took DeGoede and three students to The Gambia for firsthand market research, meetings with partners at University of The Gambia and, of course, cultural exploration. International business major Duc “Danny” Truyen Dam ’14 said this trip made him understand why the Gambia is often called “the smiling coast.” Despite rampant poverty, residents were hospitable and greeted him and his classmates—strangers from abroad—with big smiles. Perhaps some of its residents will smile a bit wider after the Recharging the Gambia project is fully powered up.

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