Heroes

Rebuilding with sun: A story of hope, innovation, and positivity for Nepal

Doing good — in an environmentally responsible way. Win-win.

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Gates Foundation

Even before the deadly earthquake hit Nepal on April 24, 2015, almost 24% of its citizens lived without electricity.

The World Bank estimates that 23.7% of Nepal's population did not have access to electricity as of 2010. Following the 8.8-magnitude earthquake — and 120+ subsequent aftershocks, some measuring as high as 7.3 — consistent electricity become an even bigger problem for the nearly 28 million people who live in Nepal.

Nepal's major cities and many outlying areas now have even less access to consistent electricity.

This NASA image shows how much electricity access has changed since the earthquake. The areas that are orange have less electricity now than they did before the earthquake.


Areas with less light output after the earthquake are shown in shades of orange; areas with the same output are black; areas with more light are purple. The map compares two periods: The pre-earthquake period includes VIIRS observations made on clear days between March 21–30, 2015; the post-earthquake period includes observations from April 19–28. Combining several days makes the observations more meaningful and less prone to error. Image and text by NASA.

To help restore electricity to Nepalese citizens, an organization called Rebuild With Sun launched an impressive campaign to bring solar energy to Nepal.

All images by Rebuild With Sun.

The effort began when Gham Power, a company that had already been operating in Nepal for the five years leading up to the earthquake, "began donating solar lights and charging stations to relief workers, and to displaced individuals and families when the earthquake hit," according to Rebuild With Sun's Indiegogo page.

Before the earthquake, Gham Power had installed solar energy at 600 sites, many of which provided important services — a hospital, a shelter for trafficked girls, and a research lab located at the Mount Everest Base camp, for example.

Gham Power began working with other local solar energy companies in Nepal and joined forces with Global Nepali Professional Network to launch Rebuild With Sun with a goal of bringing solar power stations to the areas most affected by the earthquakes.

Solar power has already helped make a difference in the relief efforts.

"People had a fear in the darkness, and they couldn't communicate with the outer world," Bir Bahadur Ghale, a micro hydro specialist and local resident of Barpak (which was at the epicenter of the earthquake) said in an e-mail.

Ghale explains that Gham Power's solar power stations have already helped people coordinate with each other and reduce panic. "First they can call their families and update they are safe. Second, they can listen to the radio programs through their mobile phones, which helps them to stay together and not to panic in the difficult situation."

Life in Nepal is still a long way from returning to normal, but things are slowly getting better.

"People are desperately trying to get back to normal, despite the constant grueling onslaught of aftershocks, Sandeep Giri, the CEO of Gham Power told Upworthy.

Although the initial earthquake happened over a month ago, "[on] May 27th, everyone got an early morning wake up call of four straight-up 4+ magnitude aftershocks within a span of couple of hours, each one a terrifying reminder of the 7.8 magnitude shock that turned our world upside down on April 25th," Giri explained.

Rebuild With Sun is working to solve Nepal's energy deficit in the short term and the long term.

Currently, they're helping with relief efforts, establishing stations that will power heavy appliances for relief and rebuilding work:

"In the near term (within 3-6 months), we will set up 1 to 2 kW solar power stations in rural villages that are not currently served by large relief organizations. These systems power heavier appliances necessary for relief, and rebuilding work (power tools, water pumps, water purifier kits, medical devices, small fridges, etc.), and will remain in place once relief work is over."

And for the future, Rebuild With Sun wants to rebuild Nepal's damaged power system with a green power system that can be used as a model in the wake of other natural disasters:

"Long term, we want to support Nepal in rebuilding with a greener infrastructure. We want to accelerate the deployment of rural microgrids and help create a smart and distributed grid network in Nepal, which should serve as a reference model for disaster response and clean energy deployment."


Pretty cool, huh?

You can help if you're interested.

So far, Rebuild With Sun has raised over $12,000 from individual contributions and over $100,000 from corporate partners SunPower Corporation, Conergy, and SolarCity.

They've launched another fundraising campaign where you can make a donation if you'd like to help.


You can see the requests they've received for help here. At the time this was written, initial requests have been completed for 30 sites, solar power is on its way for 57 sites, and 65 sites are waiting for help.

This is a great example of the hope, innovation, and positivity that can follow a tragedy, and a reminder of all the good there is in the world.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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