Written by Jacob Sax Conteh, Cocorioko Editor-in-Chief :
The town of Yele, headquarter of Gbonkolenken Chiefdom sits in the center of Sierra Leone. It is sandwiched between the long winding Tyre River, lush green forests and punctuated with mango, orange, banana, papaya and palm trees. During the day, the town pulsates with life as children dash to school, traders push their goods, and drivers load their passengers to nearby Bo, Magburaka or Makeni. However at night, like many towns in Sierra Leone, the town looks like a deserted village. Apart from a few kerosene lamps, an occasional lightning, moonlight or fireflies that flicker in the dark, the town has no light. However, that is about to change, thanks to a group of young caring innovative tenacious students who do not only want to research world problems in classrooms, but actually find solutions.
Paul van der Boor, Antal van Kolck, Mauricio Gomez and Tori Baggio are heading to Yele from July 11 to August 11 to provide refrigeration and lighting, evaluate the development of the hydroelectric power plant and begin negotiations with Ecobank for their support in the Community Bazaar. The four are members of Project Yele, an organization committed to helping the people of Yele not only have electricity, but use the light for economic development. Project Yele was set up after the summer of 2007, when a group of students from Taft University in the Netherlands went to Sierra Leone to conduct a total of five projects. Inspired by their journey and experiences, Project Yele was founded.
THE YELE TEAM
In cooperation with the Lion Heart Foundation (a Dutch NGO based in Yele) the team designed and developed a 300 kW Hydro Electric Power Plant in Yele, which is currently being constructed. By placing a Hydro Electric Power Plant sustainable energy will be available for the next 20 years. To generate strategic development from electricity the Community Bazaar will be built, which will host small businesses and local entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs will be able to use electricity, cooling, water and light to add value to their business and country. Also, financial services and coaching services will be provided to kick start the economy. Furthermore, Project Yele aims to improve living conditions of the local population by redirecting profits of the Community Bazaar into local social facilities like clean drinking water facility and medical services to support the well-being of the local population.
To achieve their goal, the team is going to work with Yele residents and their supporters around the word to build a community bazaar. According to the Project Yele website (http://www.yele.nl/project.php), the energy provided by the Hydro Electric Power Plant will be distributed according to the most important local needs with help of the Community Bazaar. The Hydro Electric Power Plant will sell electricity at a low price, while ensuring funds for maintenance.
The goals of the project are well defined:
Increase the success of rural electrification project across Africa by providing a blue print for Community Bazaar to address to productive sector in rural electrification projects.
Enhance business opportunities for small industry and stimulate the economy in Yele.
Co-design the hydro electric power plant in Yele, Sierra Leone.
The four students heading to Yele are no ordinary students drifting to Africa to skip school. They are scholars who believe in touching lives while they are still young and in school. Here is a brief introduction of the team:
Paul van der Boor (MSc)
Paul (23) holds a BSc in aerospace engineering and is pursuing a MSc and a PhD in Technological Change & Entrepreneurship. His responsibilities are the technical exploitation of the project and finance.
Antal van Kolck MSc
Antal (26) studies Applied Physics and Management of Technology. The business development of the project and communication are her main responsibilities in Project Yele.
Mauricio is a graduate student and research assistant at MIT’s Engineering Systems Division. He is in charge of devising strategies aimed at maximizing social welfare through the advent of electricity in the bazaar.
Tori is currently pursuing her B.S in Economics and Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She comes to Project Yele through CMU SIFE with a strong urge to learn from the project about creating sustainable economic development.
Project Yele aims to finance the project with subsidies, funds from private donations and corporate partners. For the people of Yele, the dark long nights will soon give way to nights of electricity and a new bazaar. As a son of Yele, my prayers are with the group whom I have been working with over the past few years to achieve their goal so that my hometown will indeed become the hub of Sierra Leone not only in terms of geography, but in business development.