Sierra Leone Lighting Project


Sierra Leone is a small country in West Africa, roughly the size of South Carolina. The country’s GDP per capita is estimated at $800, with only 5 countries in the world ranking lower (This is about 1/60th of the United States’ GDP per capita). Four out of every five people in Sierra Leone lives in poverty, and over half of the population is deprived of drinking water. The average life expectancy in the country is 47 years.

Currently over half of the population participates in subsistence agriculture; resources for farming, fishing, and mineral harvesting are plentiful despite the country’s economic poverty. Sierra Leone’s official language is English, however several other local languages are spoken in different regions of the country.

The Need

On the outskirts of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, Calaba Town was built after the war by the reconstruction efforts and is home to several ethnic groups that relocated during the war. Lacking basic infrastructure, the area was identified by the Madieu Williams Foundation as a community that would benefit greatly from the construction of a school. In 2009 the Madieu Williams Foundation funded the construction of the Abigail D. Butscher Primary School.

Seventy percent of the school’s 252 students are currently excelling academically. The school does not have electricity; as a consequence the building goes unused at night. Currently the area lacks a community space for meetings or any adult education programs. As the school expands the number of students and programs offered, having a computer and printer would assist the school’s staff in handling the increased administrative duties.

Maryland Sustainability Engineering Response

With funding from the Madieu Williams Foundation and the Clark School of Engineering, in the Summer of 2012 the Maryland Sustainability Engineering team was able to successfully install a 1.5 kW solar array at the Abigail D. Butscher Primary School in Calaba Town, Sierra Leone. This system provides lights for the four classrooms, principal’s office, bathrooms and the exterior of the school. In addition outlets have been provided for all of the rooms so that the staff at the school can use computers as both a teaching tool and for assisting with administrative duties.

After working on the design during the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 semesters a small team of three students and three mentors travelled at the beginning of June 2012 on an assessment trip. The team researched locations to purchase materials, details about transportation logistics, and did a full site survey of the school. Additionally the team talked with the community members and the school’s staff to get their input on the design.

Once the assessment team returned the project team finalized the design and began preparing for the implementation trip. Students finalized the specifications for the array, and then practiced constructing the racking system that would be mounted on the roof of the school. Then a group of six students and two mentors returned to Calaba Town in July for the implementation trip. The system was fully installed and commissioned on July 17th, 2012.