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Aussie charities forced to rethink how to keep homeschool kids focused on global citizenship during COVID-19

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Su Wei Tan’s family in Sydney is one of a hundred families trialling a new home-schooling program this week, with a focus the children in the world who are being forgotten during this COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past two weeks alone, COVID-19 has meant hundreds of Aussie students have lost the opportunity to build solar lights for children living in energy poverty.

The combination of energy poverty in the midst of a global pandemic for vulnerable nations like Vanuatu with only basic health care systems, has the potential to be incredibly devastating.

“More than 4 million people die every year due to energy poverty alone,” said Simon Doble, Founder and CEO, SolarBuddy.

If current COVID-19 restrictions are still in place by October, nearly 12,000 children in energy poverty could miss out on the benefits of receiving a SolarBuddy light assembled by Australian school children.

So, when Origin volunteers were no longer able to visit Australian schools to help students build SolarBuddy lights, the program had to be overhauled.

Ruth Lee, volunteering manager, Origin Energy Foundation said that through the new trial, they expect to see 500 SolarBuddy lights to be built this coming week alone.

“Together with SolarBuddy, we developed a new program that addresses all the challenges we are facing right now. Lights will continue to be built for children in energy poverty, students can experience the benefits of STEM first-hand, parents are supported through the challenges of home schooling, and employees are kept engaged while working from home,” said Lee.

“As soon as we launched the program, we immediately had more than 100 Origin families jump at the chance to be involved,” Ruth said.

The new SolarBuddy Family program, being rolled out this week, will see Origin volunteers guide their home-schooled children or relatives through the SolarBuddy program and build up to five SolarBuddy lights in their own homes. With a strong STEM focus, together they will learn about energy poverty and renewable energy, and then build solar lights that will be sent to children in Vanuatu.

For Origin volunteer Su Wei Tan of Killara in Sydney, who has already run five SolarBuddy sessions at schools across Sydney, this was an opportunity to provide her 10-year-old daughter with perspective at a time when it’s most needed.

“It’s great that we are still able to help out and volunteer while we are in isolation. It is important to help my daughter understand what energy poverty is, and how she can help out by building the SolarBuddy lights. As part of the energy trading team at Origin, I’m glad I can help her learn about renewable energy as well,” Su said.

“Right now, it is very important to continue to focus on the broader issues in the world, to maintain some form of normality and momentum. Obviously, the Coronavirus situation is extremely distracting to the populations of countries and governments but the problems we faced prior to the virus haven’t changed and still need to be addressed,”she said.

“It is important to show people that right now especially, we can still help make a difference to the lives of others. I hope that the current situation distils a greater sense of community and coming together to help those less fortunate. I’m really pleased that the Origin Energy Foundation has remained committed to such important causes during these uncertain times,” Su said.

SolarBuddy founder and CEO Simon Doble said that with the world focused on the COVID-19 pandemic right now, the world is forgetting that silent killers like energy poverty, don’t just disappear.

“We feel a huge responsibility to continue to help those who are most vulnerable in this pandemic, the children and families living in developing countries. Their health-care systems are extremely basic, for example, Vanuatu only has six ICU beds in the entire country. In these times, SolarBuddy’s mission to lift children out of energy poverty through the gift of light is more important than ever.

“With the support of our corporate partners like Origin, families now have the chance to learn, engage and discuss the global issue of energy poverty that affects so many children around the world.At such a time of uncertainty, there is no greater impact we can make while we are all staying home, than to help illuminate a child’s future. We encourage all families across Australia to join us,” Doble said.

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