DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

During the 2015-16 academic year a group of 3 engineering students developed a prototype of a supercapacitor utility light which could be charged off the PV phone charger.  The lamp should be further developed into a commercial product that could sell for approximately $15 each.  Using a capacitor for energy storage will allow for a much longer product life than battery powered lamps.  To date, 20 EC students have contributed to this project along with a similar number of UTG students. Our work relies on regular peer to peer interaction with our partners at UTG.


In January 2014, we left 12 PV phone chargers in the field for extended testing.  Based on those results we improved the design of the charger to resolve a couple of concerns revealed in testing.  With that new design proved out in bench testing over the summer of 2015, we competed a two week August 2015 site visit to UTG:

1.   Brought supplies for 250 phone chargers.  These supplies will be assembled into PV phone chargers in West Africa as the first trial run of a start-up cottage social enterprise managed by a group of UTG students and staff. The funding for these supplies ($1200) was provided by 23 individual donors through the sponsor.etown.edu program.

2.   We consulted with the UTG students and faculty regarding the social business pilot.  Dr. Dmitriy Krichevskiy (Elizabethtown College, assistant Professor of Economics) joined the travel team to help foster this consultation.

3.   Retrieved field testing results to confirm reports of successful use.  Some failures of wiring connections were reported.  We believe these failures were limited to the area where the wire insulation was removed and the regulating circuit was wrapped in heat shrink tubing. 

4.   Researched local materials available relevant for the gravity light design.  Detail design and prototype development will occur during the 2015-16 academic year.  

Participating students and faculty also continued our effort of building a peer to peer mentoring network and gain firsthand understanding of the cultural, social, political and economic conditions in The Gambia. 


For our first product, the PV phone chargers provided us with a simple device, with the potential to make a major impact in the lives of Gambians.  Our current design could be assembled in The Gambia and sold at cost for no more than the equivalent of $10/unit.  The device can fully charge the typical basic phone used in the rural areas in a few hours in full sun.  During the 2015/16 academic year a team of physics students at UTG have been piloting a social enterprise to manufacture and distribute 250 of these PV phone chargers.  The team is making good progress and should begin the sale of finished units soon.  With the sale of each unit, the material and labor costs to produce and distribute each unit are recovered.  These revenues will then fund the next production run.  The students are operating this social enterprise under the UTG umbrella as a practical training program.  The students’ work is paid as student employees of the social enterprise, so that the model could eventually spin off as an autonomous enterprise, allowing technology to propagate across the country without charity input. 


Excerpts from the Students' Trip reflections:


"...one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life...[arriving after dark, the smells] gave me a sudden profound sense that I was in a place very different from home...one of the most iconic characteristics of The Gambia (in my opinion) is the fact that people are extremely friendly.  I've never been to a place where people are so universally warm and inviting to outsiders. It's amazing that a people who are stuck into living in such poverty are able to live and enjoy themselves as well as remain among the friendliest people I've ever met. ... Meeting the UTG students in person and seeing their enthusiasm first-hand was a privilege. Their eagerness really encouraged me to do my best to help them develop a sound business plan... I've learned a lot as well from our meetings. ... [Exploring] the jungles of Pirang and lounging on Paradise Beach was a fantastic way to conclude our trip."


"The experience of a lifetime.  ... my first time leaving the continent... Any fears or uncertainties any of us may have had about traveling to such a far away place were quickly put to ease upon arriving.  We experienced nothing but welcoming from the Gambians, which lasted throughout the duration of our trip.  ...it is not hard to imagine being an easy target to someone when you stand out as a foreigner.  In The Gambia I never once felt unsafe. ... The values of the Gambians are also something ... that will stay with me.  Despite living in a less developed country...the people are happy just to be with their family and friends and live in community.  Despite many people not having much, if a neighbor is hungry and can't afford to eat the people will offer what they have. ...I really enjoyed working with the students at UTG and hope to see the social enterprise grow. ...Not only did the project itself leave an impression on me, but the students at UTG did as well.  Seeing their ambition for the project has motivated me [for our continuing project]. ...I will never regret my decision to make this journey.   


August 2015 Site Visit Daily Blog:


August 04, 2015


We are all packed up and ready to head out.  We’ll be departing from campus at about noon.


We’ll send our first update from The Gambia either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday.  It can take a little time to get the internet set up when we arrive. 


Best wishes. Kayira be (Peace with you, in Mandinka),




August 05, 2015

We are comfortably and safely in Brussels, but our plane had some difficulties and we have been delayed by 5.5 hours. 

Looks like we might be on a different plan, since we need to move to a new gate.  The airline is providing a meal voucher, but our 11:20 departure is now delayed until 5:00 PM.  We will not arrive in Banjul until after 10:00 PM. 

A bit more of an adventure than we planned, but all is well.

We likely will not access email again until tomorrow sometime. 

Best wishes to all!




August 06, 2015

Sumale (now you say Ibaje) {how are you, I am well}
kor tanante (now you say tanante) {is there any evil, no evil}
Greetings are big in The Gambia, these are just a couple.  We are pretty much settled in now and as you see have the Internet up and running here at MEHDA.  As I think most of you know our flight was delayed about 6 hours in Brussels, so we got in very late last night. But, quickly fell asleep to the rhythm of the nearby dance club music at about 2 AM.

Today we were able to go in to Serrekunda and purchase new batteries for the solar system at MEHDA, by tomorrow evening we should have good lighting.  We spent some time with Ebrima Cole the manager at SWEGAM (a Swedish-Gambian company specializing in solar and agriculture) and I at least enjoyed hearing his perspective on the state of solar and energy in The Gambia.

Greyson helped Dave (staff member from Eastern Mennonite Missions working with Jeremiah at MEHDA) swap out the old batteries.  We had brought Dave and his wife (a nurse training Gambian women in medical care) some supplies from the states. 

We had a big "lunch" at about 4 or 5 of fish balls and bennechin rice.  We also have enjoyed fresh mango and tapalapa (thin stick) bread. 

Everyone is doing very well and enjoyed the first day here in the Smiling Coast of Africa. 

We'll rotate daily update duties so tomorrow you'll get to hear from someone else.

Best wishes - Kurt  

August 07, 2015

Hello all,

Today we walked around Pirang and were able to see the two largest trees in all of West Africa. During the walk we "Toubobs" (white people) were very popular with the children and many of them joined us. They all wanted to hold our hands as we walked and would fight over our hands.

After our big lunch we rode a bus into Brikama where we walked around the markets and bought some laundry supplies (a tub & a rope, to serve as a clothes line)

When we returned from Brikama, after doing our laundry we met with the Pirang soccer children as well as their coaches, senior soccer players, and other various officials. We took pictures with them and handed out the soccer balls, cleats, and soccer t-shirts that were donated by the Etown soccer coach. After everything the adults reinforced how much they appreciated our gesture with an almost ceremony-like thanking session.

As I'm writing this we are about to continue our game of cards, that we started before our light meal of bread and fruit. We are all still doing well and enjoying our journey.

Please don't worry too much,


August 08, 2015

Howdy all,

Today was a very active day. After a standard but tasty breakfast of mango and bread we started off our day by walking around the school of Pirang to spend some time in town before the monthly cleaning day (setsetal) concluded at 1:00. As soon as we could we caught a gelleh gelleh and packed ourselves in to take us into Brikama for the day.

We first stopped at the wood carver's market to browse their wares. Dimitriy acquired several masks to add to his collection and Brian and I bought some interesting wooden items as well.

After this we stopped at the local drink shop, "Nice to be Nice" to relax and get out of the hot sun for a while. We were joined by a friend of Dr. DeGoede's, the charismatic Mr. Brewer.

After this we navigated the very busy and very wet streets of Brikama to visit several more of Dr. DeGoede's friends. We stopped inside some of the compounds in which the residents lived and drank glassed coka-cola and talked while the sounds of the local futbol match drifted through the windows.

Once we returned to MEHDA, we eagerly went to eat dinner where Nyamo introduced us to a local drummer. He explained how the traditional drums are made, sang a few songs for us, and even let us have a go at playing the drums ourselves. Most of our performances were not nearly as impressive as the drummer's.

We are tired but excited to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.



August 09, 2015

Hi everyone,

It started as an overcast day. We woke up to a wonderful breakfast of beans, mango and bread shared with a few guys from the village. Expecting a full week of work at the university ahead of us, we decided to make today a beach day. We were joined by some of our hosts from Pirang and we hopped on the gelleh gelleh to go to Brikama to catch another gelleh gelleh to take us to Sanyang, a coastal fishing village.

In Sanyang we found an lively beach predominately occupied by fishing boats coming and going, women cleaning the fish and seagulls waiting for the leftovers. We walked passed the fishermen to a deserted Paradise beach, once home to some restaurants and few tourists. The sky opened up and the ocean welcomed us with warm salty water and a steady swell. We enjoyed a leisurely swim and knocked down few coconuts for a drink. On the way back we bought some fish from the fisherman for dinner. In Brikama it started to drizzle. One taxi and two gelleh gelleh rides back to Pirang and we were eating peppery fish with some bread and mango. Our meal is accompanied by hibiscus and baobab drinks, hot tea and some almond cookies we bought from street vendors. The tropical rain finally came in full force right as we were enjoying dinner.

Tonight our village is hosting a fundraiser for one of the community projects. We are now resting before the Reggae and Afro-bit fundraising activities party.

All the best,


August 10, 2015

Hello again from The Gambia,

Today we got to work.  We brought all the supplies for the phone chargers into the University.  We were waiting for Dr. Momadou Jain, but he was called into a ceremony of some type and was delayed.  Not to fear, Ebrima a graduate teaching assistant in the department working closely with us on this project arranged for one of the students to come and pick us up with the supplies.  A student, Emanuel, with a vehicle is extremely rare, most faculty do not have a private car. The student's father is a general surgeon in Banjul, and allowed him to take the family car to campus for the day.  They are from Pakistan and have lived in The Gambia for two years - he is studying physics at UTG.

Dr. Jain had completed his duties and met us at UTG when we arrived.  We reviewed the assembly process for the chargers with the 16 students able to get into campus.  The students broke up into 3 groups and closely went over the instructions Bobby and Greyson had written up.  I was very impressed with the attention to detail of the students.  Once they understood the process, Greyson and Brian tutored them on the soldering technique.  The students enjoyed getting to know each other.  Dmitriy enjoyed putting on his photojournalist hat for a while taking some great photos of the action.

Next it was time for a little lunch. Jeremiah's wife runs a restaurant on the UTG campus. We walked over for a quick lunch of seasoned beans on bread. Very nice.


Back at the physics lab we went over the plan for the week and the big picture for the project with a smaller group of student leaders that will manage the social enterprise. We will resume with this group tomorrow morning.


On our way back to Pirang we stopped again at one of my old neighbors in Brikama. Today we were able to see more of the family. The kids were the stars of the show putting on quite a performance singing, dancing and just having a great time. One of the neighbors manages a local soccer team. They will be playing in a tournament game in the big soccer stadium in Brikama, box bar, on Wednesday and we are planning to attend. Should be fun. Before we left we also enjoyed a little attaya tea. Attaya is a tea usually shared among men as a social gathering under a mango tree. Today our tea was prepared by a young woman (rather surprising). Attaya is a very strong and sweet tea, typically served in three rounds – we only stayed for the first round.


Aside: we did not make it out to the dancing last night, it got pretty late and we turned in before things really got rolling. Alleiu came to get us to join them, but it was past 11:30 and we were all in bed.



August 11, 2015

Hello all once again,

Today was another day spent at the university. We met with a smaller group of students and faculty this time and focused on preparing them as managers for this social enterprise, Recharging The Gambia. We also distributed some Elizabethtown water bottles to these students and consequently had to explain what a Blue Jay is. We also brought two hats, which we left Dr. Jane the responsibility to distribute. He immediately claimed one of them and put it on, so I assume they were excited for the Elizabethtown merchandise.

During our break, we went back to Jeremiah's wife's restaurant for some lunch. Then we resumed our lessons with the students.

After our day at the university we made another stop at the woodcarver's market on the way home, since it is not far from the campus.

Tonight, we will be having another drumming performance as well as more basic lessons.



August 12, 2015

Howdy everyone,

    Today we were not needed at the University of the Gambia, so we decided to spend the day adventuring around Pirang and Brikama. With our host Nyamo and his assistant Aloo as our guide, we found ourselves deep in the dense forest of Pirang surrounded by rare birds and the occasional shy monkey. We linked up with another tour guide who took us deeper still into the forest while showing us various forms of wildlife and calling birds.

    We were tired once we emerged from the forest but after a break for a large lunch and a nap or two, we journeyed back into Brikama to spend the rest of our day watching the local football match.

    We finally got to experience some true Rainy Season weather while at the game, and when the game was finally over the streets of Brikama were thoroughly flooded and we sloshed our way back to the gelleh gelleh "station" to find a ride home.

    Luckily the rain has managed to cool the air down a bit, so we all are looking forward to a good nights rest in comfortable conditions tonight.

    As a side note, Dr. DeGoede has been having some difficulty getting the computer charger to work, so there is a distinct possibility we won’t be able to send messages in the future. Hopefully this does not happen but if it does, fear not, we will endure and will return safely to you all.



August 13, 2015

Hi all,

We are doing great. Today we finished our work at the university. We are looking forward to see how far Gambian students can take the project. On the way back from the university we stopped by Kurt's friends in Birkama and came back to the house for a big lunch of spicy rice with potatoes and chicken. We were all tired so we had a short drumming lesson before turning in for the night.

All the best,



August 14, 2015

Hello again.  Today we had a bit of a chance to recover.  We've all been a bit fatigued, but today we were able to relax under the palms.  It was cooler and there was a nice breeze. 

I was able to talk briefly with Saikou Njai (US Peace Corps) and was able to get a report on the prototypes of the chargers we had out in villages for testing.  One issue we will need to look into was the UV resistance of the wire insulation.  The UTG team will need to source wire with UV resistance to address this concern.  We may be able to meet with Saikou tomorrow.

Our main activity today was a meeting at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Technology.  Yusapha Touray, at the ministry is an old friend.  At 4:00 Yusapha's driver picked us up in Pirang, just as the rain was starting.  Boy did it rain.  This was an intense rain.  Along the way the streets were flooded.  We were very happy to be in a solid SUV.  Yusupah was working late with his team on a World Bank proposal, but took some time to meet with us and hear about our progress on the project.  We also met with Yusupha's supervisor, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry.  The ministry again pledged any support we need for the project.  It was good to see Yusupha again.

After the heavy rain it feels cool.  We are hoping for a good night's rest.

We are looking forward to seeing you all again soon.




August 15, 2015

Hello all,

This morning, during breakfast, we experienced some more of that Gambian wet-season rain we had been missing during the first week. After the rain stopped a cab came to Medha and took us to a restaurant across the street from the U.S. Embassy. Here we ate pizza (not a traditional Gambian meal) and drank soda while we met with four of Dr. DeGoede's former students. It was great talking to them and interesting to learn about where they are now and what their ambitions are.

After that our cab driver took us to Saikou's house, where we were fed again. We met with him and discussed both the solar charger project as well as the lighting project which Greyson, Bobby, and I will be working on more during this upcoming school year.

We returned to our compound and, after another small drumming performance, ate another large meal. We're definitely eating well here in the Gambia.

It's nice to be nice,


16 August 2015


Hey there everyone,

It seems that I have the honor of sending our last update during our stay here in The Gambia. We decided to spend our last day by staying work-free and relaxing and soaking up as much Gambian sun as we could.

We woke up this morning and fueled up at breakfast, then proceeded with Nyamo, his assistant Aloo, and our two drummer friends to catch a gelleh gelleh into Brikama. We then caught another to take us to Sanyang and grabbed another taxi to drive us the last bit into Paradise Beach. There we swam in the very warm water and hung out under the shade of the palm trees. Our Gambian friends made us ataya tea and Dr. DeGoede's old friend Mama brought us all a delicious meal of fish and chips to enjoy on the beach. Brian and I took another go at knocking down some coconuts out of the trees and were quite successful.

We took the same route home and enjoyed our last ride in the gelleh gelleh. After we all rinsed all the sand off of us we had a light dinner and decided to hang out and play cards for the rest of the night. The rest of the group isn't much competition but I try and go easy on them.

I think I speak for us all when I say our stay has been amazing thanks to Nyamo and the rest of the helpful people at MEHDA and the people we've met along the way. The people here and incredibly friendly and helpful and we have certainly learned a lot during our stay. We are very eager to hear how the students at UTG manage the social enterprise and are hopeful that it makes a valuable impact to many lives here in The Gambia.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.