Solar Systems

“Solar panels,” says Bruce Rhodes, “are the hottest thing since sliced bread in Africa.” Rhodes, who wears several hats in Sonoma County, heads Santa Rosa’s Arlene Francis Center, but that’s not his primary mission. Rhodes travels to Mali and Senegal several times a year to help villagers go solar.

Rhodes’ passion for the solar-panel project in the West African nations strikes a global chord that resonates locally. Rhodes’ commitment helps create energy independence at the village level and serves to “keep the youngsters close to home instead of facing the possibility of leaving, and who knows where they will end up—in a war zone, or somewhere outside the village.”

Rhodes is a graduate of New College in the North Bay, and a longstanding champion of the power of solar energy at home and abroad. The solar-panel project is part of a universal, self-sustainability matrix called HIEC (health, income, education and culture). Rhodes partners with the Berkeley-based We Care Solar, a project that brings electricity via “solar suitcases” to assist with birthing babies in villages where the nearest hospitals are hours away.

Rhodes also created Drums for Solar to broker agreements with villagers, “to help them become empowered and self-sustaining where they live,” and he’s bringing this message to the Arlene Francis Center on Sunday, May 21, from 5pm to 9pm. Attendees can expect a drum-centric celebration with food, music, videos, dancing and the U.S. premiere of Heritage, a poignant film about village life by a Mali student named Tiorre, who also created the West African Film Festival. Rhodes heads back to Mali in December to beat the drum for global solar awareness and action.

Lenita Marie Johnson is a native New Englander and broadcast journalist and writer who lives in Sonoma County and attends Santa Rosa Junior College.

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