Pickering helps install solar power for African clinic

BELEFENAI, Liberia – A Wood County man is providing electricity in Africa.

This year, Chip Pickering of Williamstown, as part of an ongoing mission in Liberia, helped to install three off-grid solar PV (Photovoltaic) systems and refrigeration at medical clinics in rural Bong County, Liberia.

These clinics, in the towns of Klebei, Yolota and Belefenai, provide primary care, immunizations, vaccinations, emergency rooms and delivery of new babies in these rural communities.

These solar electrical systems are upgrades from the previous systems, Pickering said. They provide 750 watts of PV collection and sport a 3000w inverter. The battery system is sized to provided minimal lighting and six-day operation for the refrigeration during times of peak rainfall, Pickering said.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot of power by American standards, but in Africa a little bit of power goes a long way,” he noted.

This work is part of an ongoing project begun in 2009 at the request of Dr. Walter Gwenigale, minister of health and social welfare for the Republic of Liberia in West Africa.

Five systems have been installed since 2009.

“Our systems provide refrigeration for live culture vaccinations and immunizations, lighting for the emergency and delivery services at night, and power for computers and communications at these sites,” said Pickering, CEO of Pickering Associates of Parkersburg.

Staffed with a physician’s assistant and sometimes a midwife, these may be the only clinics for the communities within several hours’ drive (if they had a car), he said.

This year’s mission was supported by the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown and by Global Health Ministries of Minneapolis, Minn.

Onsite support was provided by Bruce Moilan of Global Health Ministries and Feleku Pewee, chief engineer for the Community Health Department at Phebe Hospital in Bong County, Liberia. Pickering trains the African electricians, who install and maintain the electrical systems.

The average income in Liberia is $2 a day, Pickering said.

Pickering said he has four power projects he is working on now: at a small orphanage in Bong County, Liberia, at an orphanage in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia and two more PV installations at Bong County clinics.

He hopes to have the systems installed by the end of the summer.

In 2008, Pickering traveled to Liberia to install the generators and provide an upgraded wiring system at Phebe Hospital. After the installation the group met with Dr. Gwenigale, who asked if the group would work on a project to provide power and refrigeration to some of the remote clinics served by the Community Health Department at Phebe.

The group found there were 17 clinics, nine of which did not have any power or refrigeration, Pickering said. The ones that did have refrigeration only had DC power for partial refrigeration and no power for lighting, phones or computers, he said.

Refrigeration is necessary for vaccinations and live culture medications to be stored at the clinics for when people come in with vaccination and treatment needs. Lighting provides the ability for treatment at night and is particularly helpful during complicated childbirth and acute or emergency treatments, Pickering said.

Power also has been provided to support communications and limited computer use.

In 2009, Thermo Fisher Scientific donated 19 small refrigerators to Phebe Hospital, the group’s base of operations in Bong County, through the help of Global Health Ministries.

Pickering returned to Liberia that year to provide an initial installation of two solar power systems (for the Totota and Naama clinics) using the maintenance crew from Phebe for the installation.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” said Pickering, who spent 10 days working in Liberia in February.

The group is now seeking funding for an additional 12 electrical systems. The installed cost for each system is about $6,900. The systems and other supplies are packed in Minneapolis and shipped to Africa.

Anyone wanting to help in this project to bring electricity to rural Africa can contact Pickering. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the First United Methodist Church in Williamstown, Global Health Ministries or other groups Pickering is working with, he said.