El Islote, May 2014

In May 2014, GRID Alternatives led a team of SolarCity employee volunteers to Nicaragua through SolarCity’s Give Power Foundation to install a 1.38kW off-grid photovoltaic system on a primary school in the community of El Islote.  The small fishing village of El Islote (“The Islet” in Spanish) is located in the municipality of Buenos Aires, Rivas, Nicaragua, about 58 miles south of the country’s capital of Managua.  The community sits on the edge of a freshwater peninsula in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. 

Because El Islote is far from the main highway there is no direct road access to the primary school. During the rainy season a portion of the peninsula floods making access very difficult. Some students have to walk waist-deep through water or take a boat to reach the school. Although the last electrical post is located about 4km from the center of the community, extending the electrical grid would be very costly because of the unique geography of the community.

There are a total of 24 homes in El Islote and an estimated 250 inhabitants.  While some homes have small 50W DC-direct solar systems at home, the town is not connected to the grid and community buildings like the school have no electricity at all.  During medical emergencies community members have to take a boat to the nearest clinic, which is about 5.5 miles away.

The El Islote primary school was constructed by the government in 2011. It consists of one classroom and one dormitory for the visiting teacher. The primary school teacher, Professor Frederico, has a home outside of the community but commutes to the school on Mondays, stays in the community during the week, and travels back to his home on the weekends. From 3-4pm Monday through Friday, there are adult literacy classes held at the school, but because there is no electricity it is hard to hold classes any later than this hour or at a time that is more convenient for working adults.

The residents of El Islote see the solar panels on the school as a step forward to improving the quality of education and quality of life in their community.  Apart from providing a central charging place for cell phones and other AC appliances, the electricity in the school will improve the overall quality and delivery of education because the teacher can now plan his lessons in the evenings instead of being in darkness. Evening classes with the adults can start at a more convenient time after sundown.  Access to electricity will improve emergency and preventative health care because the community can connect medical equipment and nebulizers at the school, serving as a resource for medical brigades that occasionally visit to do vaccinations and check-ups at the school.

Although El Islote is a very poor community they are rich in unity. For example, the community got together to transport all of the materials to build the school by hand and provided labor to build the school. Whenever there is an emergency the community mobilizes to help those in most need. The school is well taken care of and the residents of El Islote were excited to welcome SolarCity’s Give Power Foundation volunteers to their community. Click here to see photos from the trip.