Expanding perspectives, relationships & technical skills in La Misión, Mexico

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October 05, 2018

In September, eight IGS Energy employees traveled to La Misión, Mexico with GRID's International Program to install solar on Door of Faith Orphanage. IGS employee Elizabeth Lugviel recounts the highlights of her experience in the following guest post.

Traveling has the inherent and incredible potential to expand your understanding of how the world works. In September, I had the opportunity to travel on my second GRID Alternatives international solar installation trip with seven coworkers, through my employer, IGS Energy. The experience expanded my perspectives, my technical skills, my relationships, and my connections with children and staff at Door of Faith orphanage in La Misión, Mexico.

Expanding perspectives

As part of IGS’s international volunteer program (Renewable Energy Corps), our company partners with GRID Alternatives to bring renewable, reliable, clean energy to underserved communities. But training for the program began long before arriving at the installation site. It started with a Global Fluency workshop that IGS (in partnership with the Columbus Council on World Affairs) provided to travelers. The training equipped us with knowledge, skills, and shifts in mindset necessary to immerse ourselves in new cultural experiences by challenging our assumptions and expectations before, during, and after the trip.

During the trip, we dove deeply into trying to understand the many facets of each experience – How were our own previous experiences affecting our perspectives and interpretations? How could we be more present and more engaged? What could we learn from this conversation, this story, this person?

Expanding relationships

Traveling with a group of coworkers lends itself to establishing connections that would never be possible inside an office building. After spending nearly every waking moment together, sharing meals and experiences, learning from and growing with one another, suddenly, the word coworker didn’t seem to do the relationship justice. One of my travel companions captured the evolution of our relationships perfectly by stating, “Come as coworkers, leave as friends”.

But the friendships didn’t stop there – We were lucky enough to complete the installation alongside some incredible folks from GRID Alternatives and five students from the Universidad Tecnologica de Tijuana, who are studying renewable energy. As we worked together, we were transformed from strangers to friends, finding a common language that blended Spanish, English, a little bit of guesswork, and a lot of pointing.

Door of Faith Orphanage

During our stay at Door of Faith, we discovered that the orphanage was so much more than a safe place for children to come when circumstances in their lives make it unable for them to stay at home – We found that it was an enormous family, complete with 120+ siblings, lots of moms and dads, and seven playful pups! We met long-time volunteers and staff members who had spent years at the orphanage, doing laundry (90 loads per day!), cutting hair, coordinating school bus routes, cooking incredible food, and providing a consistent, loving presence in the lives of the children who reside there. We also met many of the children that live at Door of Faith. We played with them, ate with them, taught them about solar and the project we were installing, and most importantly, learned an expanded definition of the word ‘family’ from them.

Expanding Technical Skillset

The solar industry is growing at a rapid rate, as governments, communities, organizations, and individuals begin to understand the positive effects of renewable energy on environmental and economic levels. And IGS is proud to partner with GRID Alternatives to be a part of that movement.

Only one of the travelers from IGS had any previous hands-on experience with solar. But the skills taught to us by the GRID installation specialists during our time at Door of Faith gave us all a practical understanding of how solar systems work and the enormous benefits they can have. Our team had the incredible opportunity to work on GRID’s largest international project yet, installing a 30kW solar system (124 panels) that will save the orphanage about 40% on their electric bills (which is incredibly significant when you consider the cost of providing energy for a family of 120+ children).

The experience also gave us a responsibility - To be advocates for solar and to encourage others to expand their own understandings about other parts of the world. Blending our pre-trip training with the information and experiences we shared with GRID staff, UTT students, and the Door of Faith family, we returned with the power to share stories of the awesome impact of the project, the amazing culture we experienced, and incredible people we met!