“If you have the opportunity to join KiloWatts for Humanity and travel with them to Zambia, I would urge you to take that opportunity. It's been life-changing for me.”- Carrie Smith
Carrie Smith is currently an electrical design engineer working at Stryker, a medical device company. Carrie started volunteering with the KiloWatts for Humanity (KWH) in 2018. She helped develop a data acquisition system to monitor the energy kiosks KWH implements in rural Zambia. She also has the opportunity to travel to two Zambian communities with KWH energy kiosks. We caught up with Carrie and asked her to reflect on her past volunteerism with KWH and her time in Zambia.
Carrie reflects on what makes KWH a unique organization: “The KWH community in general is an amazing group of people. They come together from a place of love. They want to improve the earth, to protect resources. That core drive shows up everywhere in what they do, and I think that’s a really special thing.”
In 2018, Carrie was part of a travel team that visited the Zambian communities of Chalokwa and Munyama, where KWH had previously implemented energy kiosks. Their goal was to install data acquisition systems and document how the kiosks have impacted the communities. Carrie recalls the emphasis that was placed on preparing the travel team for the trip, and KWH’s focus on cultural context “We had dedicated resources and weekly meetings to prepare us for the trip. They helped us understand the community we were going into. How to stay safe there, how to not rub our own privileges in other people’s faces, how to stay in contact with one another.”
Once there, Carrie saw and experienced firsthand the important and sometimes simple pleasures that electricity can provide “The kiosks provide electricity. They also provide food and cold drinks [through refrigerators and freezers]. It gets really, really hot there. They don’t have air conditioning or anything like that, so having something that can cool your body down, and that tastes good, is such a nice thing to experience. That seems like a very simple thing, but it’s something very enjoyable.”
Carrie was also impressed by the professionalism and collaboration of the KWH community. Says Carrie: “I felt very safe, and very supported. To be able to focus on our technical work, the team made sure our housing was taken care of, our food was taken care of. They did a great job of managing all of that so that we could focus on our mission, to make the data acquisition systems functional.”
Carrie’s volunteerism with KWH has had a lasting impression on her life: “This experience changed everything for me. It’s hard to understand what resources you have access to, or what situation you’re in, if that’s all you see. But if you pick yourself up, take yourself outside of that comfort zone, and look from the outside, you can see the difference. We’re very lucky. In a lot of ways, I feel almost embarrassed at how unknowledgeable I was about my situation, but also very thankful that I was able to see it. Now I can recognize “This is a lot of privilege, and now I can take responsibility to make changes that I’m proud of.” Now, when I meet someone, I try not to have any pre- judgement, because I have no idea what they’ve been through. I listen, I try to be in the moment.”
The Zambian residents were not the only ones to benefit from the actions of Carrie and the KWH team. Carrie also received an unforgettable gift in Zambia. She described it, saying: “the colors of the sunset were just gorgeous. I remember sitting near the shore, and there was a little tiny wooden boat just drifting tied on a rope. There were no city lights, people on their cell phones, it was just nature.” After hearing her words, it is easy to create a vivid image as if we were also sitting behind the shore.