SolarSPELL Site Visit to Nguna Island, Vanuatu

The ASU SolarSPELL team’s third site visit was to Nancy’s village of in Nguna on Monday, May 15, 2017. With a village population of about 130 and no electricity, running water, or Internet connectivity, this village faces significant challenges. To give one example, there is no school beyond a kindergarten. All schoolchildren must travel to other villages to continue their schooling. Nancy welcomed us to her home and told us more about the village when we arrived.

Some of the local schoolchildren began asking Nancy to help them with various homework or school-related activities, and she heard about a SolarSPELL digital library that had been left with a headmaster in a neighboring village, on the same island but quite a distance away, by a Peace Corps volunteer who had completed their term of service there. She asked the headmaster for the SolarSPELL and had been using it for the past 6 months. We brought her the new, updated version.

Nancy had invited a group of students she regularly interacts with, to come and be among the first to “surf” the new SolarSPELL library.

At first, these kids were incredibly shy–this picture captures it well!

But after Miles explained how the SolarSPELL worked, and pointed out some of the new content, they were off and running!  They became far less shy, and we were so happy to see how second-nature it was for them to connect to the library and start surfing, whether on a tablet or smartphone.

They began surfing to their hearts’ content, (mainly) watching videos that interested them.

They are currently on a two-week break from classes, so this was a welcome diversion. A village youth leader also joined in the action.

Later on, he proved to be a natural on flying Bruce’s drone, taking amazing aerial photos of the village.

Another highlight of the day was that our nursing student, Emily, was able to meet with some local women, to hear the health-related concerns facing them, their families, and/or the village more generally. What a fantastic opportunity to learn what the true challenges are for remote villages that lack so many resources we take for granted.

The team would like to thank our gracious Peace Corps volunteer hosts in all three locations. What an amazing experience to be welcomed everywhere we went, benefiting from the wonderful relationships that the PCVs have established and cultivated with their home villages. We feel so fortunate to have been welcomed in so warmly, in each and every case.


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SolarSPELL Team site visit to Lelepa Island, Vanuatu

On Saturday, May 13, the ASU SolarSPELL team was thrilled at having the opportunity to join Peace Corps volunteers Katie and Jack as they traveled back to their “home” island of Lelepa. There was a crowd of children at the pier, all of whom were elated to see Katie, whom they knew as their teacher.

We also met a number of the village residents as we trekked through the main street.

All of them were elated to see Katie and Jack returned to Lelepa.

There were beautiful seascapes at every turn, as we made our way to an amazing cave.


We were glad we hadn’t needed to travel in one of the local canoes, pictured above, but it was neat to see quite a few of them, nonetheless.

There were beautiful vistas around every turn, as we made our way to Lelepa’s famous cave.

One of the locals, Krystal, gave us a tour of the spectacular cave that just defied description, so I will leave it to the pictures. We also learned quite a bit about the legend of Chief Roi Mata, whose remains were found on the hat shaped island pictured below. (It’s called Hat Island.)

There were some ancient cave drawings from the 1800s depicting local topics of importance in that time (which were very difficult to capture on camera). Can you see the silhouette of a wild pig in the photo below?

Afterwards, we walked back out to where the boat was moored and to our surprise on this off-grid, unconnected island, there was a teenage girl, sitting on the beach with her tablet, watching music videos!

Our next stop was at Katie and Jack’s home, adjacent to the school where Katie teaches. We trained them on how to use the SolarSPELL library, giving them the lightning-speed overview of the device and pointing out some highlights of the content.

Lelepa island seems to be an ideal place for the SolarSPELL as Katie estimated that over half of the island’s residents own tablets, not even to mention how many smartphones would be found there as well, so finding devices in Lelepa would not present the same challenge as in Epau. The team was surprised at the difference in access to technology that a small difference in local income levels makes. We inquired about this and were told that since Lelepa has no water source of its own, (subsistence) farming is not an option, so people commute to Port Vila and work for wages. Clearly, they were earning more than the subsistence farmers. How interesting that geographic limitations could lead to higher incomes.

Katie and Jack were tremendously excited at the new possibilities that using the SolarSPELL presented for the school. Katie already shared numerous ideas she was having, not only for using the SolarSPELL in her classes, but for holding a workshop to introduce it more widely, to teachers and parents as well.

Finally, the team got back in the boat and headed around to the far side of the island for some absolutely amazing snorkeling.

And a great fish dinner afterward.

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SolarSPELL visit to Epau village, Vanuatu

Cyclone Donna—a category 5 Cyclone that passed near to Vanuatu on May 8 & 9—effectively canceled our plans to travel to Ambae and Maewo Islands, respectively, to see Peace Corps volunteers in-action, visit their schools and health care centers, and carry out impact evaluations. Nonetheless, we were able to find multiple silver linings: Thanks to the flexibility of the Peace Corps staff and volunteers, our team was able to make three site visits more locally.

We first traveled to the more remote and rural side of Efate island, to visit Frances in the village of Epau, on Friday, May 12. Frances shared with us how she has been using the SolarSPELL library that the previous volunteer, who was stationed at Epau before Frances’s term of service, left with her.

Since her school has no devices of its own, and the families in Epau cannot afford purchasing devices like smartphones or tablets, Frances has been using the SolarSPELL herself to plan lessons for teaching. She also hosts community members at her house who have homework or other specific topics they would like to surf the SolarSPELL library to find out more about.

Frances teaches third grade students, which is when students in Vanuatu begin learning in English. We were excited to share with her all of the new content and resources our team recently added to the SolarSPELL library for absolute beginner-level English language learners.

Frances gave us a fantastic tour through her village. There were various signs posted, attesting to the ferocity of Cyclone Pam, an off-the-charts cyclone that devastated Vanuatu two years ago, so it was quite understandable how seriously everyone had taken Cyclone Donna. Thankfully it was far less destructive than estimates were predicting.

As an update, we saw Frances again before we left. She let us know that on that very first evening after we brought her the Raspberry Pi with new-and-improved content, her host family was so excited about it, they kept her up very late into the evening, surfing and exploring all of the new content!

Posted in Arizona State University, Pacific Islands, Peace Corps, Solar Computer Lab in a Box, Solar Digital Library, SolarSPELL, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment