By Courtney Finkbeiner, Student Engagement Coordinator, SolarSPELL

Photo Credit: Jude Schroder

On April 3, 2021, SolarSPELL held its second Build Day during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fall semester build went well with a smaller group and everyone masked up and socially distanced, so we felt ready to host our second one under COVID guidelines once again. 

This time around, we had a group of volunteers come out that I have a personal connection to: 8 returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) from the Phoenix Peace Corps Association (PPCA). The group came out to ASU’s Polytechnic Campus, where we hold our Build Day, to learn more about SolarSPELL’s history, impact, and future plans from our Founder and Co-Director, Laura Hosman, before jumping into building the SolarSPELL units.

Photo Credit: Arizona State University

Our Buildmaster, Lanette Rugis (an ASU Alumna who specializes in process improvements at Boeing), has led groups through previous Build Days and walked us through the workflow for this one. Stations were set up around the room to assemble 60 library units destined for refugee communities in Ethiopia later this year. 

The first station is where we drilled into the plastic case to allow for the solar panel assembly in station two, and subsequent stations put together the combination of glue, velcro, wiring, batteries, and Raspberry Pis (the microcomputer that operates as the ‘brains’ of the digital libraries). All of this is what it takes to make the SolarSPELL hardware come to life

Video Credit: Arizona State University

Each station had a mix of SolarSPELL staff and RPCVs tending to it. We worked as we chatted, and I got to learn about what drew the RPCVs out to volunteer that day, what plans are in store for the PPCA, and in general, the trajectory that each RPCV took upon returning home to the US from their countries of service (two volunteers who served in the same country, years apart, and had the same host family, actually met in person for the first time at our Build Day!). 

Through our conversations, it was apparent how service has stayed a part of each volunteer’s lives. SolarSPELL Build Day was an opportunity for them to live that spirit of service while bringing a connection back to their Peace Corps service: the SolarSPELL libraries assembled that day would end up in Ethiopian communities very similar to their own countries of service as far as access to internet, electricity, and information goes.

We wrapped up another SolarSPELL Build Day excited for what’s in store for our initiative, the PPCA, and our Global Strategic Partnership with the Peace Corps.

Photo Credit: Arizona State University