Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in the Peace Corps Legacy Project, which documents the sustainable projects people of Suriname have carried out with the help of Peace Corps volunteers during the organization's 17 years in country.
The group I traveled with visited villages on the Upper Suriname River to see solar panel projects funded by the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) and put into place by Peace Corps volunteers and Suriname citizens. ECPA is a flexible, voluntary framework for countries to collaborate and cooperate on clean energy and climate change issues. Peace Corps Suriname's ECPA initiative focuses on energy poverty and climate change efforts and is supported by an interagency agreement between Peace Corps and the Department of State.
Our group, which included Peace Corps officials and two journalists, departed Paramaribo and headed deep into the interior of the country. Our first stop was Gran Slee, where volunteers have worked with community members to install solar-powered street lamps. At the onset of the project, a handful of citizens from the village were sent to Paramaribo to learn how to maintain and install the solar panels. Gran Slee's street lamps now light up the night, making the busy section of town a lot safer for those, entering, exiting, and crossing the river at night. The project received a lot of attention, and several surrounding villages are trying to find a way to get their own street lamps.
Communities in the interior rely largely on generators for power. Generators bring much-needed electricity to communities, but it is expensive to bring in the fuel by boat or plane. The village of New Aurora hasn't had generator fuel for the past two months. Solar panels won't solve this problem overnight, but definitely provide an opportunity to leapfrog technologies and move right into sustainable sources of power generation to keep developing the village.
Thanks to electricity provided by ECPA-funded solar panels, members of a local women's cooperative continue to work on their beautiful textiles and other handicrafts with solar-powered sewing machines. As a Community Economic Development Project, Peace Corps has trained the women to install and maintain their own solar panel system, as well as assisting them with basic bookkeeping, marketing, and product layout and display. Like the women's cooperative, Lloyd, the local barber, is able to operate his business during the day and night using solar panels. A member of our crew took the chair for a shave and haircut.
The trip ended far too soon, and as we made our way back upstream to depart, we observed villagers of Godo enjoying the shade of the Kankanti tree in the heat of the day. It's hard to appreciate the enormous size of this tree, but it is truly awe-inspiring to see how it towers above the canopy. It is considered inappropriate to cut the trees down due to religious beliefs. The tree reminded me of the vast ecological wealth Suriname enjoys, and I was encouraged to witness the interest and commitment to clean energy of Surinamers in the far reaches of the Amazon.