Before landing in Nepal in late May and beginning the arduous trek to the remote Dolpa District near the Chinese border, philanthropist and world traveler Peter Werth first met with the students of Hartford Public High School's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology.
For the third consecutive year, AEGT students are reaching across the globe to bring a renewable source of power to remote villages in the Himalayas, and Werth is the person who ensures the wind turbine and other equipment the students crafted make it there safely.
Nepal 3.0, as the project is known, is funded by the Werth Family Foundation, United Technologies, the Connecticut business community, and friends of AEGT.
Students, working in conjunction with CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership, gather as a team to create the turbine and other materials that are then shipped to Kathmandu and make their way—by helicopter, donkey, and, finally, yak—to remote villages in Dolpa.
This year's goal is to build renewable power systems for two villages, Tinje and Kaiguan.
Shortly after arriving in Nepal in May, Werth emailed CBIA's Dayl Walker to say the package that students had sent to Nepal would have to be split into two so it could be brought by helicopter to the village of Tinje.
It involved more time and expense, Werth said, but the final results would be worth the effort.
Solving Real World Problems
Students involved in the project learn how to collaborate and work as a team, applying their academic skills to solve a real world problem.
The skills will serve them well in their future professional endeavors.
In a presentation to Werth and other visitors, student Philisha Jordan explained how she and her classmates worked on the project.
Jordan, who plans to run her own business after graduating from college, described three phone apps her team used to coordinate their efforts, work documents, and schedules.
"A lot of companies like young kids because you know how to use apps," said her teacher, Dave Mangus. "A lot of companies want that."
Werth initiated the Nepal project several years ago when he came across the village of Saldang during a hike through the region and learned of its need for something as basic as electricity.
Work began in 2013 when the students made and shipped a renewable power system to Saldang, marking the first time it had power.
Word soon got around to nearby villages, said Werth, who was approached by elders from neighboring villages about getting their own power source.
So in 2015, a new group of 15 AEGT students designed and built two power systems for the equally remote villages of Namdo and Karang.
Helping a Community
Werth told the students that their work to bring power to a school in one of the villages helped not just the students but everyone in the village.
"The school is the center of the community in these villages," he said.
"This allows the village to hold community meetings at night and not force people to attend meetings during the day when they should be working in the fields."
Werth explained how the power sources allow the villages to use satellite phones and summon help—including medical helicopters—during emergencies.
"You've made such an impact on these villages and students and you'll continue to make an impact," Werth told the students.
The word in Dolpa is that the kids in Hartford really get things done.
An elder from one of the villages who had visited the students in Hartford last year died when a yak scared the horse he was riding on a narrow mountain pass.
He succumbed when the horse fell off the side of the mountain. Even a phone call wouldn't have saved him.
"When he fell he was still 35 hours from the nearest medical facility," Werth said.
"He had been up and down that pass probably 1,000 times. It shows you don't take anything for granted. Up there, life is tough."
Werth told the students that the Nepalese government "ignores the people of Dolpa. But we don't ignore them."
When Werth first visited the area a few years ago, he was shocked at how people lived.
"I saw schools with no power, and they use lamps fueled with yak dung for light," he said.
While he saw no power sources in the Dolpa District, he did experience "tons of sun and tons of wind. These are resources we could harness."
Werth said he just needed "some smart engineering kids—and lo and behold, here we are."
As a result, the AEGT students enjoy a solid reputation halfway around the world.
"The word in Dolpa is that the kids in Hartford really get things done," Werth said.
AEGT follows a model set by NAF, a nonprofit educational organization that bring education, community, and business leaders together to solve problems that education and the economy face.