UEL student Michelle off to Gambia to shine light on village solar energy project

Michelle Gibb... ready for Sunshine Academy

Michelle Gibb... ready for Sunshine Academy - Credit: UEL

A pioneering social enterprise is poised to launch in a remote part of West Africa—thanks to an inspiring student at the University of East London.

Mature student Michelle Gibb aims to start a ‘Sunshine Academy’ to provide a village in Gambia with solar panels and training to build mobile phone chargers and lamps.

“I want them to be micro-entrepreneurs,” Michelle explained. “We want to give villagers the means to make their own solar-powered technology.

“Several charities send useful solar-powered tech, but we want to put the knowledge and material into the hands of the people.”

Michelle’s achievement in setting up the project in a partnership deal with Off-Grid Europe renewable energy company is all the more remarkable, given her own tough life—having been homeless and out of work.

“I found myself struggling to get a job,” she recalls. “So I decided to improve my skills and get a degree at UEL.

“Unfortunately, I was having housing problems and went into mortgage arrears, losing my house and facing homelessness.”

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Michelle—without a roof over her head—had to defer her second year at UEL. She made her way to Gambia, working on community development projects in Mamuda, a village on the banks of the Gambia River.

“I planned to get some land, build a home and start a new life,” she added.

“But I witnessed difficulties villagers faced with simple tasks such as charging their mobile phones. They would walk up to three miles to charge their phone, leaving it overnight, then walking back to collect it the next day.”

Then a light flicked in Michelle’s head when she hit on the idea for Sunshine Academy to train the villagers in solar energy technology to start their own project.

She returned to UEL to finish her degree course, spurred on by her dream of giving the villagers a better life, and is currently in her third year studying Sociology (Professional Development)—aiming to turn her Sunshine Academy into reality.

She has now secured the backing of Off-Grid Europe to provide solar panel off-cuts from their manufacturing process.

Michelle has also won the support of local councillor Aleen Alarice, on Newham Council, who has agreed to become a Sunshine Academy patron.

She is now raising funds to put her plans into action and is on the look-out for companies and wellwishers for financial support.

The villagers in Mamuda, meanwhile, anxious at the prospect of making their own sun-powered energy, have put aside land to build their new skills centre.