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Youth Education First Nations

Solar illumination for Torres Strait community a boost for education, sport and culture

4 min read

For the high school students at Tagai State Secondary College on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, when the sun goes down there are limited options for study and extra-curricular activities.

Reliance on polluting, unreliable and expensive fuels like diesel for power generation, means that after dark, there are very few spaces where young people in the community can safely come together for arts, sporting and cultural events.

Engagement in sports, education and extra-curricular activities, including those that promote cultural expression are proven to have a positive impact on individual and community wellbeing.

Currently, 789 million people in the world, including many in PNG, Vanuatu and half a million in Australia, live in energy poverty or without reliable access to electricity. Four million people die each year as a result of energy poverty.

Last week, the Australian charity SolarBuddy, with philanthropic founding partner the Origin Energy Foundation, and Australian solar lighting specialist Leadsun, installed SMART solar-powered LED lights at the school’s multi-purpose centre as part of their Illuminating Communities Initiative.

Suberia Bowie, Principal, Tagai State Secondary College said, “This new solar flood lighting for our multi-purpose centre means everything for our kids. It means creating the opportunity for them to participate in after-school and cultural activities, activities outside of school and on the weekend, performing arts and other events. It really means a lot.”

SolarBuddy’s Illuminating Communities initiative is designed to create opportunities for young people while supporting the community with solar powered installations in areas impacted by energy poverty.

Joining the celebrations was Gold Coast Basketball QBL Rollers Men Power Forward TJ Morseu-Diop. “Having played in tournaments and helping run Basketball clinics with community and family in both mainland communities and the Torres Strait, I know the impact that sport has on kids in their formative years. From a social, educational and health perspective the benefits of sport and community are far reaching and can’t be underestimated.

“The ability for these kids and their families to have access to sporting facilities after dark – and with no financial or environmental cost to the community – will not only serve them well but it will also but a tremendous positive for the whole community,” TJ Morseu-Diop said.

The program is aligned with SolarBuddy’s goal to gift six million solar lights to children living in energy poverty by 2030, to help them to study after dark and improve their education outcomes. The Origin Energy Foundation has been working in partnership with SolarBuddy since 2018 running SolarBuddy sessions at schools around Australia and has already donated more than 8,000 solar lights.

With the introduction of SolarBuddy lights, children in PNG are studying up to 78 percent longer and reliance on kerosene and other dangerous fuels has been reduced by 80 percent. Since these fuels are one of the largest expenditures for many households, families are able to reallocate their income towards food, healthcare, education, and other necessities.

SolarBuddy General Manager Billie Murphy said, “Our vision at SolarBuddy is to illuminate the futures of all children and a key way we can achieve this is through education. Our Education Program has empowered and inspired more than 130,000 students globally and we are thrilled to be able to expand this program and offer it to more students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in hands-on STEM learning like this.

“Today we are focused on the illumination of the sporting ground at Tagai State Secondary College, yesterday we had hundreds of students building SolarBuddy lights for themselves and other children living in energy poverty, tomorrow we will educate hundreds more about the impact of STEM and the power of Indigenous Knowledge and Science in finding solutions to global issues,” Ms Murphy said.

Energy poverty is a global issue, of which few Australians are aware. Even fewer realise that in our very own resources-rich country, there are currently 500,000 Australians without safe and reliable access to electricity. This primarily effects remote Indigenous communities, where streets after dusk are completely dark and homes will frequently go without power for days at a time.

The students at Tagai State Secondary College participated in SolarBuddy’s Make 2, Keep 1, Gift 1 program last year where students make two SolarBuddy lights, keep one and gift one to another student living in energy poverty in PNG.

“We want to run our Make 2, Keep 1 Gift 1 program at every school in the Torres Strait and install solar flood lighting where it makes sense, and in consultation with the community. There are challenges particularly given the remoteness of some communities but with the support of our founding partner, the Origin Energy Foundation, the program is now successfully up and running.

“We are incredibly grateful to have the Origin Energy Foundation’s support for our Illuminating Communities program. The next step is to secure additional charity and corporate partners to join our program and help support the initiative,” Murphy added.

Origin Energy Foundation’s Ruth Lee said that through the partnership with SolarBuddy they had been able to give so many students in regional and remote Australia the opportunity to learn about STEM, renewable energy and global citizenship through a hands-on, engaging session.

“Now with our involvement in the Illuminating Communities program we are tying together our focus on education with an innovative renewable energy solution that is a win-win for the community. We could not be prouder to be involved in this program with SolarBuddy,” Lee said.

Matt Pollard, Managing Director of Australian solar lighting specialist Leadsun said, “There are great synergies between Leadsun, the Origin Energy Foundation and SolarBuddy, who provide mini solar-powered lights to young people in remote communities. We are so pleased to be involved in this initiative to help illuminate the community on Thursday Island.”

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Lourdes Antenor is an experienced writer who specialises in the not-for-profit sector and its affiliations. She is the content producer for Third Sector News, an online knowledge-based platform for and about the Australian NFP sector.


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