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

Additional Training with Current Vanuatu Peace Corps Volunteers


On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the ASU SolarSPELL team had an unexpected, additional opportunity to meet a group of current Vanuatu Peace Corps volunteers, and give them a training on using the SolarSPELL, as well as provide this group with updated hardware and content.

It was a fantastic opportunity to let these volunteers know the history of the project, get them up-to-speed on using the digital libraries, and introduce them to all of the new content we’ve assembled and added over the past two years, since our first deployment in Vanuatu two years ago.

A number of these volunteers had “inherited” the 2015-versions of SolarSPELL digital libraries from the previous volunteers who had served in the same location, but they had not received any official training and knew very little about the history or background of the project.

Because these volunteers already had a year of experience in the field, at their work-sites, they had plenty of insightful questions for our team.

Yet because most of them already had experience with using the libraries, they needed very little training on how to use them. As the photos show, the volunteers were very eager to discover all of the new content we had added over the past two years, and there is a lot!

Since these volunteers already had the housing and solar panel from the prior version of the SolarSPELL, and these were all still working, we simply provided a new Raspberry Pi with an updated micro SD card to each of the volunteers who attended this training with us, and we were grateful for this unexpected opportunity—an opportunity that presented itself because of Cyclone Donna!

We came home to a beautiful sunset at our hotel.

Posted in Arizona State University, Peace Corps, SolarSPELL, Vanuatu, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Largest SolarSPELL Training To Date Takes Place in Vanuatu

On May 9, 2017, the SolarSPELL team held a training with 41 incoming Peace Corps volunteers in Port Vila, Vanuatu. This was a record number of volunteers in a training for our team—by nearly double!

This training also marked the official launch of SolarSPELL Health—a new phase and programmatic focus for the SolarSPELL, complementing and augmenting our prior focus on Education. We are so grateful that Peace Corps Vanuatu invited us to include the Peace Corps Health volunteers, and we look forward to continuing to work very closely with the Health volunteers.

The day launched with an overview of SolarSPELL’s history and development.

Next, the volunteers received their new SolarSPELLs, and began figuring out how they work.

After that, they started surfing around on the SolarSPELL’s offline website, discovering all of the open-access education and health-related content that is now available to them.

Emily Blau, a member of the SolarSPELL team who is a doctoral student at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovations, also explained to the volunteers how some of the content on the libraries was added with them specifically in mind, when they might be facing culture shock, homesickness or just not feeling well.

The afternoon continued with a discussion of some challenges the volunteers will likely face, when introducing SolarSPELL to their field-posts. All examples came from real-world examples shared with us by Peace Corps volunteers already in the field.

We were fortunate enough to have a guest speaker come and give some firsthand testimonial and recommendations for the future, for these incoming volunteers. Alexis, an RPCV who was serving in the field during our first Vanuatu training two years ago, has continued to work and live in the Port Vila area since concluding her service. There was complete silence in the room as Alexis spoke, as the in-training volunteers were so interested to hear what she had to say.

We also had some VIP visits during the day, both from Peace Corps staff, including Vanuatu’s Country Director, as well as staff from the Ministry of Health. It was fantastic to meet all of these people and learn of their keen interest in SolarSPELL.

We were also fortunate enough to meet an ASU alum!!!! Bryce is a health volunteer, looking forward to head out to his new island-home in a few short weeks. Go Sun Devils!

Several of the volunteers were quite interested in the SolarSPELL Library lab. Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to meeting the volunteer who will be taking the lab back with her, to her school, next week.

The SolarSPELL team from Arizona State University included four undergraduate students from the Polytechnic School, of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, a doctoral student from the College of Nursing and Health Innovations, and a faculty member from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Polytechnic School.

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