How Brazil is using solar power to rehabilitate prisoners
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A woman in Brazil has launched solar power training courses in the country’s prisons, not only to boost Brazil’s green energy potential but also to help inmates reintegrate into society.
At the beginning of this year, the environmental NGO Greenpeace handpicked 30 people from across the country to be solar energy trainers. Among them was Aline Oliveira Souza, a young woman living in southeastern Brazil. In return, they pledged to set up green energy projects in their hometowns. "Most of them have already organised conferences and workshops to teach people how to cook using solar power, for example," says Barbara Rubim, a member of Greenpeace Brazil who helped train the 'solar multipliers', as they are called, that took part in the NGO's project. These trainers will then take their newfound skills to the country’s prisons to train inmates in turn.
Training of 30 'solar multipliers' organised by Greenpeace. Photo courtesy Caio Paganotti/Greenpeace.
"We need people trained to install solar panels"23-year-old Aline Oliveira Souza is from Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais. She's currently studying to be an agricultural engineer.
I applied for Greenpeace's 'solar multipliers' project as soon as I heard about in January. I'm very interested in the issue of sustainable development. For me, this training programme was the ideal chance to learn more and then share that knowledge. It's important, because Brazil has the potential to produce huge amounts of solar power but it's a source of energy that remains largely untapped.
Greenpeace's training programme was divided into two parts. First of all, theory classes and workshops on solar energy were organised for three days in São Paulo in March. We learnt how to make use of solar power in order to cook and generate electricity, and so forth. We were shown how solar panels work and we were given advice on promoting solar energy in our hometowns.
Then in April we went to Uberlândia in Minas Gerais, where we installed solar panels in a public school and carried out workshops with the students. Today, these panels produce a good chunk of the electricity consumed by the school. And thanks to the savings it has made, the school now has more money to invest elsewhere, by developing cultural projects for example [Editor's note: As part of its project, Greenpeace has also installed solar panels in another school in São Paulo].
Aline Oliveira Souza with students at a school in Uberlândia. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace / Otávio Almeida.
Workshop with students at a school in Uberlândia. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace / Otávio Almeida.
"It's way of encouraging them to reintegrate into society and therefore lower reoffending rates"
Following the training, I launched a project in a prison in Sete Lagoas, in the state of Minas Gerais, home to about a hundred or so inmates. Given that solar energy is an up-and-coming sector in Brazil, there's a growing need for people qualified to install solar panels. I want to set up a training programme aimed primarily at these detainees so that they learn the right skills. Such a project will also boost their chances of successfully finding work on the job market once they're released. It's way of encouraging their reintegration into society and therefore lower chances of them reoffending.
I've already organised the first workshop in the prison. All the inmates from the particular block I worked in took part. I explained how and with what materials solar panels are manufactured. I also explained how they work, how to maintain and repair them, and how to hook them up to the electricity grid. We also touched on themes such as Brazil's energy use, and the lack of water that plagues certain regions.
The detainees asked lots of questions, like: 'Do these solar panels only use sunlight to generate electricity?', 'Does that really work?', 'Why aren't we already using this type of energy?', 'Why are the panels so expensive?' It's very encouraging to see that they're so curious! I think learning about all this could really transform their lives.
To continue developing the project I'm still looking for funding that would let me buy the equipment needed to set up a real training centre in the prison, which would allow us to carry out practical work.
Solar power accounts for barely 0.01% of the electricity produced across Brazil. According to Greenpeace Brazil's Barbara Rubim, "less than a thousand homes have solar panels fitted to their roofs" in the entire country. Hydroelectricity, petrol and biomass are the main sources of power in Brazil.
This initiative was covered by our team as part of FRANCE24’s “Observers vs Climate Change” project. If you know of an initiative near where you live that’s been set up to fight climate change, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team at email@example.com