Carly and Dave Lettero will install solar panels in rural West Africa, traveling in a retired Albany school bus
A Corvallis couple plan to take a three-month trip to Ghana this summer to install solar panels in the west African nation. Their chosen method of travel — a former Albany school bus.
“It’s so fun to think about,” said Dave Lettero, who has been planning the expedition with his wife, Carly Lettero, since December of 2011. “This was built in 1990; it was on the (Greater) Albany School District line until 2009. It just drove around in circles in a little town, and now it’s going to make its way to the other side of the world.”
The bus is ready for exotic travel. A Portland artist covered the bus with colorful murals that depict images of rural Africa and solar energy. The bus will be shipped in May to Accra, Ghana, where it will be loaded up with solar equipment and tools.
If the efforts to raise the last $40,000 for the trip go well, the Letteros hope to begin the trip in June. The bus will serve as a home and workshop for the Letteros, five community developers from the Disaster Volunteers of Ghana, a two-person film crew and a driver/mechanic. The bus will stop at six schools and four medical clinics to install solar panels as well as LED lights, ceiling fans and vaccine refrigerators.
Without the solar panels, the schools and clinics would have no power.
Carly, who is a program director with both Energize Corvallis and the Environmental Humanities Initiative at Oregon State University, said the idea of using the school bus came to the couple in 2011, at the end of the second of two short solar energy installation trips to Sierra Leone. On those trips, eight people and all the solar equipment shared a minibus.
Wouldn’t a full-sized school bus — and a longer trip — be better, they thought. Since then, the Letteros have brainstormed, planned — working with their partners in Ghana — and raised money. Dave, who has worked in the solar industry for 12 years, wrote letters requesting support from related companies.
“It was nice to be able to reach out to them and say ‘we’re doing this really ambitious, unique project and we’d love to have you be a part of it.’ And they almost all agreed,” he said. Many donated the solar equipment.
In schools, the solar systems will power electric lights, which will enable the scheduling of night classes for adult education. In the clinics, solar power will enable refrigeration of medicines, which can extend the viability of malaria vaccines, for instance.
Dave said that having solar power in a community in Ghana could enable rural residents to charge their cell phones without having to travel into cities and pay to charge their phones. He said he’s interested to see if some rural communities will use their solar charging system as a much-needed source of income.
Carly said she and Dave have installed off-grid systems together before, and they know they work well together.
“Dave’s got all the technical expertise to install these off-grid systems, and I’ve traveled a lot,” she said.
Before it heads out on its African adventure, Carly and Dave will bring the bus to Earth Day at Oregon State University on April 22 and to the Corvallis Farmers’ Market on April 27.
Dave will drive the bus to Texas soon afterward, and it will be loaded onto a ship bound for Africa. From there, its journey really begins. But it will not be the last, Dave said.
“If our dream fully manifests, we will someday drive this across the continent to eastern Africa,” Dave said.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Carly and Dave
Lettero, both 34
WHAT: Planning a trip around Ghana in a school bus, installing solar panels in villages
FAMILY: Pet rabbit, “Hop”
QUOTE: “We’re used to having electricity, so it doesn’t change the game for us to have solar electricity, but there, where there is no electricity, it can make a big difference” — Carly Lettero