As part of the Native American Access to Technology Program spearheaded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SELF completed its first project in the United States in October 2001.
Situated in the sun-filled states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the Navajo Nation is home to approximately 200,000 people. In the 1840’s members of the Kaibeto Chapter were displaced to the North Eastern corner of Coconino County, Arizona by the United States Government. Despite its location in the heart of the world’s richest nation, much of the Navajo Reservation still lacks paved roads, clean water, dependable electricity, and consistent telephone service. Over half of the Navajo people live below the poverty line.
Native Americans are among those at the farthest reach of the digital divide– left unable to take advantage of the internet’s rich resources, tools, and information to pursue educational and economic opportunities. In an effort to bridge this gap, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiated the Native American Access to Technology Program, which offers grants to Native American tribes for the acquisition of computers, Internet access, and other technologies.
The Gates Foundation selected Kaibeto as the site for a project focusing on bringing communications systems such as the internet and phone service to the community. At the start of the project, the Kaibeto community’s central meeting hall and chapter house lacked dependable electricity. The initiative was overwhelmed with assistance from OnSat Network Communications, a company dedicated to bringing satellite Internet to remote areas.
In order to power the satellite and computers, OnSat enlisted the support of SELF. By using solar panels, Kaibeto would be able to utilize the area’s abundance of sunshine to gain access to clean and affordable energy. SELF designed a system consisting of twelve 75-watt BP Solar mono-crystalline panels. The array provided enough electricity to power four computers, networking equipment, the internet-connected satellite dish, among other technologies.
In order to ensure the longevity of the solar power system, Kaibeto residents were trained on how to troubleshoot and care for all components of the new solar PV system.
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Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in more than 25 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power such as for drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rain forest, online learning in South Africa and microenterprise development in Nigeria.
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