Inside USD

USD Graduates Engineer a Brighter Sudan

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nearly 20 years ago, Mou Riiny was forced to flee his village in southern Sudan during the second Sudanese civil war and walk 500 miles to Kenya before coming to the United States. Now, he and several other University of San Diego engineering graduates have returned to install a solar power system and bring electricity to the village for the first time.

The six-kilowatt system will create a sustainable model that can be repeated for villages throughout the developing world. Electricity carries with it a world of benefits for rural communities, including the alleviation of poverty, illiteracy and opportunities for entrepreneurship. “It will power charging stations so people can charge batteries, laptops and cell phones,” said Riiny, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” who resettled in Boston, Mass., before attending USD to study electrical engineering.

Riiny and several other students designed the system for their senior project before graduating in 2011. Political, safety and other issues have complicated the installation but the materials for it arrived this fall and in late December, USD graduates Michael Rios and Emmett Perl traveled some 6,500 miles to meet Riiny in South Sudan and complete the $70,000 project. A fourth engineering graduate, Enrique Rayon, who also participated in the design is now working in the biomedical field.

Following the arrival of the materials, the village and the entire region “is filled with excitement that I cannot capture in words,” Riiny said.

The village of Thiou has a population of about 400. It is located in the Warrap State in South Sudan, about 400 miles northwest of Juba, the country’s largest city. Rios and Perl will return to the United States on Jan. 10. Rios is now in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and Perl is in graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

USD has been recognized as a Changemaker campus by Ashoka, the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. “Changemakers work to resolve social problems and engineers strive to solve technical problems,” said Kathleen Kramer, chair of USD’s Engineering Programs. “This project brought together these two missions in an extraordinary way and the team of students has shown relentless dedication in bringing light to the school in Thiou.”

The entire USD campus community, along with San Diego businesses, became involved in the effort, contributing funds and materials. The San Diego-based Moxie Foundation was a major supporter of the $70,000 project. Donors, including USD trustees, administrators, faculty, staff and students, contributed a total of $39,000.

Sponsors for the project also include AM Solar which provided a $5,000 grant, technical support and contact to other companies. OutBack Power provided $6,000 worth of inverters and wiring boxes for the final system. Jinko Solar donated solar panels worth $10,000. P-2 Lighting provided $7,000 worth of energy-efficient lights that will be used in the school as well as a 40-foot shipping container to send materials to Sudan. Solar Turbines provided logistics and support for a 22-wheeler truck to deliver the container to the village. The San Diego chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the Boston-based Village Help for South Sudan organization also provided additional support.

— Liz Harman

To view photos and learn more about the project, visit the Thiou Village Project through Village Help for South Sudan.

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