By Michelle Shermer, ONE member
As a homeschooling mother of five children who are now teenagers and young adults, I’ve learned never to know what to expect. So when ONE approached us with curriculum developed by Scholastic designed to teach about energy poverty, I felt a bit hesitant. Would my teenagers understand the issues? Would they care that there’s an opportunity to bring electricity to 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa for the very first time?
Without context, the facts only appear as numbers on paper. Seven out of 10 Africans have no electricity; 8 out of 10 people heat and cook with methods leading to 600,000 unnecessary deaths a year; and 35 percent of primary schools have no power. From education to healthcare, the effects of energy poverty ripple throughout every aspect of life.
As a ONE mom and volunteer, I am a passionate “factivist” about these numbers. My children have heard me explain why our voices matter. They know that our congressman agreed to co-sponsor Electrify Africa because we asked. They’ve met our Masaai friend who introduced us to a teacher in Kenya saving girls younger than themselves from childhood marriages. They’ve seen our friend from Rwanda pack solar light kits into suitcases to bring light to those who need it the most.
Through the years, our homeschooling adventure has been an eclectic mix of independent study, classes, and tutors. With our variety of experiences in mind, I was tempted to take the lead once again on the energy poverty materials to ensure my twins, the two remaining homeschool students, would be well-informed global citizens. We would study African history, geography, economics and politics. We would simulate energy poverty by suffering through a day without electronic devices (I was looking forward to that). We would study solar and wind power and visit the dam near our home to witness hydroelectric power firsthand.
But instead, I decided to give them the material and ask them to pursue a project of their choosing. That’s when the real advocacy started.
Using the Scholastic materials to launch her research, Megan produced a video highlighting the role that power plays in her American teenage life. Images of everyday activities are contrasted with onscreen facts of energy poverty. Marc opted to write an essay thinking it would be an easy way out of extra work – until I asked him to write it in a dark room with a pencil and nightlight. That effort only lasted a few minutes, but it was enough to produce some insight. His essay begins, “Imagine you were a student studying for an upcoming test. It would be really easy for you at home: you have electricity, heating, and light, but what if you did not have any of that?” He concludes with a call to action to pass Electrify Africa this year.
For all of us, the Scholastic materials provided more than just facts – they were an invitation for my students to become a part of the conversation. Getting out of the way to let them pursue their passions led to a comfort level with global issues that many try to complicate, including myself. My kids reminded me of that – giving me the confidence to tackle these issues and continue to use my voice on the behalf of others while I watch them find theirs.
Tell Congress to pass the Electrify Africa Act – a bill that will help provide 50 million people with access to electricity for the first time.