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David Lueth is a successful graduate of the St. Peter Claver Ecological Training Centre in Rumbek, South Sudan. The Jesuit-sponsored school provides vocational training school in solar energy and water and sanitation. Lueth today earns his living installing and maintaining solar energy equipment. Photo: Paul Jeffrey.

David Lueth knows that his personal future and the future of his country are intricately intertwined. And both involve solar power.

Lueth, 35, graduated from a course on solar energy at the St. Peter Claver Ecological Training Center in Rumbek, South Sudan, in 2012. He already had basic skills in house and industrial wiring, having completed a course in Khartoum on electrical systems. But when he heard about the solar course at the Jesuit-run training center, he rushed to enroll.

“We have lots of sunlight in South Sudan, even more than in neighboring Kenya, where it rains more than it does here,” he said. “People prefer solar. It doesn’t make noise like a generator. It doesn’t make smoke. And you pay for it just once, because if you have the right equipment and install it correctly, it won’t cost you anything more. You don’t have to keep installing spare parts.”

Lueth said solar technology is catching on. “Even if you go to remote villages, you can’t walk past very many houses until you see one with solar panels,” he said. “The country is developing, and people know solar is good. The only problem is that there aren’t a lot of solar engineers. We have lots of people who know about electricity, as like me they learned it in Khartoum, but very few who can work with solar.”

That’s good news for Lueth, who works several solar jobs to support himself, his wife and one-year old daughter.

“Now I have a salary, and I even have paid holidays. I don’t sit around idle like so many others who are just waiting for their salary at the end of the month,” Lueth said. “Many people know me and my work, and they will call me to travel far from here to solve their problems for them.”

According to the training center’s director, Jesuit Fr. Georges Kimonge, the focus on solar is designed to wean people from generators.

“Solar can provide you with your own power at your own place, and it’s a technology that’s environmentally friendly, unlike generators with all their smoke,” he said. “I was in Juba recently and the whole night was full of noise because everyone has their own generator running.”

While the school focuses on training solar technicians, Fr. Kimonge, originally from Tanzania, says students shouldn’t be afraid of other technologies. “If they encounter a generator they shouldn’t run from it, but rather stay and repair it as well,” he said.

Students in another course study computer programming, while a third group studies construction. The original idea for that career track, Fr. Kimonge says, was to train people to install hand pumps on wells. “But we discovered that to do that well they must know some plumbing, as well as a bit of construction so they can put in the platform for the pump, and sometimes must construct a small building to protect the pump or their supplies,” he said.

Fr. Kimonge says most students, like Lueth, have had no difficulty in finding employment, many with non-governmental organisations or the United Nations. Several students already work for a government ministry, and they are sent to the course to advance their skills.

A Dutch NGO that is installing solar water pumps in remote villages in Lakes State is negotiating a relationship with the center where some graduates will immediately get jobs caring for the new systems. Fr. Kimonge says they’re also considering the addition of an alternative to the current ten-month training program.

“We could recruit motorbike mechanics who already know how to work with their hands, and we’d bring them here. In two or three weeks, we’ll train them what they need to know to maintain water systems,” the priest said.