From Malawi to Oakland, Solar Connects


September 04, 2013

Thoko Mtchona has one of the biggest smiles in his neighborhood, and for good reason. Thoko, a Malawian immigrant with a passion for solar, got solar installed on his home by GRID volunteers, and is now helping other families like his go solar by volunteer with GRID. 

Thoko grew up in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, and throughout his life has always had an interest in electricity.  At the age of 11, Thoko was fixing broken radios, irons, and hot plates for his family. With frequent power outages in his home city, he followed electricians to learn as much as he could from their work.  After finishing high school Thoko got the opportunity to further his education as an electrician at Zomba Technical College. From there, he continued to pursue a career involving electricity; Thoko was hired on by Lilongwe Wildlife Center where he was excited to help install a solar PV system.  This was the first time Thoko experienced the magic of solar, and he knew he had found a new passion.

When Thoko moved to Oakland two years later, he knew close to nothing about how his life in California would unfold, he just knew he wanted to keep pursuing his childhood dream of working with electricty. After completing an electrician training program in Hayward he was able to secure a job at a small general contractor. It was then that Thoko and his wife Michelle began pursuing one of their lifelong dreams: installing solar on their own roof.  But with the arrival of a brand new baby coupled with their low-inomes, the couple couldn't afford to invest in in a PV system.  This is when Michelle came across GRID’s website.

Three months after they made their first phone call to GRID, they had a crew of volunteers on their roof installing a 2.0 kW system.  Thoko, being so enthusiastic about solar, took two days off to help the GRID volunteers with the install and helped put the finishing touches on his roof. 

Having the opportunity to be a part of his own home’s solar installation inspired Thoko to become a volunteer and help other families get access to solar technology.  Thoko has been an excellent addition to the GRID family with his big smile, and even bigger heart. He has a special place in the Bay Area team's hearts, reminding our staff and everyone he meets that installing solar can bring happiness to people from all over the world, and be the connector that makes our days a little brighter.