By installing a small set of solar panels in some of the most remote of African villages, Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari and her organization Jewish Heart for Africa are able to bring electricity to schools, orphanages and medical clinics that have never seen artificial light before.
This week, Jewish Heart for Africa is officially marking having helped 250,000 people throughout the continent, bringing them sustainable solutions that allow for the fulfillment of basic life needs. Based in New York City, the organization is a 501-c3 nonprofit whose goal is to save African lives using Israeli sustainable technology. Founded in 2008 by French-Israeli Borowich- Ya’ari, 33, as of Tuesday, the group had completed 58 solar projects at schools, medical clinics and orphanages in villages throughout Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. The project that had just been completed as Borowich-Ya’ari spoke to The Jerusalem Post over the phone from New York on Tuesday evening was in the village of Nthodo, Malawi.
“Our priority is really to get where the need is the greatest,” she said.
Borowich-Ya’ari, who received her masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University, began her career bringing sustainable energy to Africa while working for a United Nations development program. From there, she decided to establish her own organization, to bring similar aid to African villages through an Israeli lens.
“Israel has so much to offer and Israel managed to cope with a land that was without any kind of resources, and today it is one of the most innovative countries,” she said. “I’m sure that if we can transfer these technologies to the people that are most in need, we can help them.”
First and foremost, the solar panels bring something as simple as electric light to the communities, Borowich- Ya’ari explained. The villages need to have at least 1,000 residents and be far from the national grid, she added. After receiving a commitment to maintaining the solar facilities from the local government, Jewish Heart for Africa teams teach the local residents about what is going to be happening and how solar energy functions.
“Most of them haven’t seen light in their life,” Borowich-Ya’ari said.
Upon arrival to any of these villages, visitors will usually see a simple medical clinic that has essentially nothing inside – no light and no refrigerator for medications.
“If you want to find a medical clinic at night you can’t,” she said.
The photovoltaic systems that Jewish Heart for Africa installs include storage batteries so that energy captured during the day can also be used at night, according to Borowich-Ya’ari. Team members always make sure to then install light bulbs in various places around the village, with at least four outside the medical clinic.
Within the clinic, the organization brings in 50- to 60-liter refrigerators that have ample room for vaccines – a feature that also attracts doctors to come live in the area. In addition to powering the medical clinic, the local school and the orphanages, the group also ensures, as an incentive, that the homes of doctors, nurses and teachers all receive electricity, Borowich-Ya’ari explained.
Once the medical clinics are equipped with electricity and refrigerators, lines and lines of people ready to receive vaccinations quickly form, and the organization has now vaccinated over 100,000 people, she said.
The average cost per project is about $10,000, much of which is raised through donations from the global Jewish community. By bringing in sustainable Israeli technologies to African villages, the organization also hopes to improve Israel’s image worldwide, according to Borowich-Ya’ari.
In addition to providing basic electricity needs, the solar panels have also paved the way for clean water access in several villages, Borowich-Ya’ari said. In a few of the villages, Jewish Heart for Africa has installed water pumps – powered by the solar panels – that each pump over 20,000 liters of water per day. Thus far, four of these have been completed in Uganda and Tanzania, and one in Malawi.
Borowich-Ya’ari hopes to continue bringing vaccines, solar energy and drinkable water to more and more villages throughout Africa.
“The demand is so great,” she said. “You look into the eyes of the children – everyone needs it.”