Irving, Texas. July 27, 2011 –
For Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Irving resident Tara Lynn Smith, a promise to her village is a promise she planned to keep, even if she had to juggle three part-time jobs.
Smith, 25, gathered with friends and family at Empa Mundo Thursday to celebrate a promise kept and her recent return from Cameroon, where she retrofitted a 60-student orphanage with solar power in tiny Bandzuidjong—a feat which she funded by collecting over $3,000 in direct and in-kind individual contributions.
“This was an exhilarating—if sometimes difficult—project, and I am thrilled to finish it,” Smith says. “Finally, Bandzuidjong has light. Sixty orphans and their community members will be able to read, see, and do more at night, thanks to a few solar panels.”
The project caps her “Light in Sight” initiative, the first such project for Peace Tree Africa (PTA), the 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization she founded upon returning from Cameroon in 2009.
For Smith, it also represents the culmination of a pledge she made to Bandzuidjong residents two years ago by agreeing to come back with a sustainable solution to their energy needs.
With Kentaja Orphanage able to provide light during dark hours, the 100-plus residents of Bandzuidjong—a remote village lacking in basic infrastructure like roads and power grids—will be able to learn and communicate when the sun goes down without relying on outdated and sometimes dangerous forms of energy, like kerosene lanterns and stove light.
“Light is so important to a small community like Bandzuidjong,” Smith adds. “If a child falls sick from malaria, or someone suffers from a sudden injury, families in the community need a place to gather. Kentaja Orphanage can now make that place a visible one.”
According to the World Bank, nearly 589 million people across Africa lack consistent electricity access. A report by the International Energy Agency adds that by 2030 the number of energy poor will jump to 700 million—with one in three relying on kerosene and other unhealthy energy sources that make communities susceptible to fire outbreaks.
Smith facilitated “Light in Sight” from start to finish by making contact with solar power provider Acrest, negotiating a sustainable shared-cost plan with Kentaja benefactors and Bandzuidjong residents, and rallying donors with YouTube videos and Facebook posts.
Friends and admirers who came to know through her videos provided her with individual contributions that ran from $5 to $150. An American Airlines employee halved her airfare—a bulk of the costs—by sponsoring her for a standby ticket to London.
Smith collected the donations and managed her project while working three part-time jobs, which included her roles as a call center representative, part-time teacher and sales associate at the Galleria in Dallas.
Asked how she managed three jobs and an international project, Smith quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “’There’s only one way to eat an elephant: one piece at a time.’”
“We ate that elephant,” Smith told her donors in a YouTube video before her July departure.
Founded in 2009, Peace Tree Africa is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization that aims to fund sustainable development projects across Cameroon.
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