Signal Hill Planner working on solar project for school in Nicaragua

Staff Writer

Students in the United States take some things for granted. They rarely wonder if their school will have electricity to power the lights, computers and other equipment necessary for their education. In El Pedregal, Nicaragua, however, it’s a different story. None of the buildings in that little hamlet even has electricity, and pupils in the town’s only school may as well be living in the 1700s.
If James Kao has his way, those students will soon begin experiencing 21st Century style education. Kao, who is an associate city planner for the City of Signal Hill, is a member of two groups that are sponsoring a project to install a solar-powered electrical system in the school. One of them is Los Angeles/Orange County Alternative Energy Meetup Group and the other is Long Beach Spanish Language Meetup Group. Both organizations undertake projects to assist needy communities and arrange social events for their members.
“This solar project was started by Jenean Smith who is the organizer for the alternative energy group,” Kao said.
Smith was in the Peace Corps from 2001-2003. “I worked with a group of community volunteers to open and run a community library in San Lorenzo, Nicaragua,” she said. “El Pedregal, which has about 300 people, is a three-hour walk from San Lorenzo and it is not connected to the power grid.”
Smith added that El Pedregal has a four-classroom school “But the town only has one teacher, so the approximately 40 students who are from five to 20 years old all crowd into one classroom,” she said.
The two Meetup Groups hope to install a $20,000, two-kilowatt solar powered electrical system in the school. “It will have batteries so they can have electricity at night,” Smith said. “This will be a life-changing improvement for the people in El Pedregal.”
To buy the solar system, the two groups are conducting a fund-raising event this Saturday, May 31 at Viento y Agua on 4th Street and Termino Avenue beginning at 6 p.m. It will include a silent auction and live music by Lickerish (a jazz band). “No admission will be charged, but we are suggesting a $10 donation,” Kao said.
“It’s exciting to be working on a project where solar energy is being installed for people who really need it,” Smith said.
For more information email Smith at or Kao at or phone him at (562) 335-7431.

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