Clovis West students light the way for children in Kenya, local first responders

Clovis West students (left to right) Bradley Kennedy, Isabella Ruiz and Sara Gonzalez test out a solar suitcase under the supervision of environmental science teacher Todd Kennedy (back). DANIEL LEON/CLOVIS ROUNDUP

Environmental science students at Clovis West High School are lighting the way for villagers in Africa and local first responders.

Through the PG&E-funded program called We Share Solar, students had the opportunity to build a small, fully operational portable lighting system known as a Solar Suitcase.

“At the end of last school year, I was looking for projects to get my students involved in real-world application of environmental science,” said teacher Todd Kennedy. “This opportunity came across through PG&E and was something that I applied for almost on a wing and a prayer.”

Through the partnership with We Share Solar, Kennedy’s class was supplied all the materials to build the suitcases, in addition to the training he received himself.

“I went to a training and found out that I was one of only 15 schools in the entire state of California that were given this opportunity. I was amazed and humbled by that,” Kennedy added.

Students put the finishing touches on the dozen suitcases Wednesday before shipping them to schools in Kenya, and to local agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire for use in emergency situations.

The suitcase destined for Kenya is a larger, 501 model designed to be permanently mounted inside a school or medical building. Once it is mounted to the wall, solar panels will be put up on the roof, and light switches will be installed in the room. The 501 suitcase has the power to light up an entire room using four light bulbs, and at the same time act as a charging station for electronics.

“They’ll use the power there [in Kenya] to literally provide light to kids that have no light,” said Kennedy. “We found out that in Kenya there’s less than 20 percent of the population that actually has access to electricity. Kid will oftentimes have to hike miles every night just to find a light source so they can do their homework.”

The smaller versions, also known as the 601 models, come in a lightweight design for the convenience of first responders.

“This [smaller] one is a more portable device so that you can literally carry it around with you if we’re talking about first responders,” explained Kennedy. “You can have it literally on your back in a backpack, and you can deploy it anywhere, any time.”

When Kennedy told his class about this, students like Bradley Kennedy were excited to get on board and provide power to children in an energy scarce region.

“My favorite part is just being able to have this opportunity to show that we care about them,” said Bradley. “I can’t wait until they open it up and get super excited about it.”

At the end of the day, Kennedy’s students applied their knowledge to a real-world application that will benefit others for years to come.

“We’re really excited the kids have had an opportunity to do something, to reach out, to touch, and to make an impact on the lives of others in a positive way,” said Kennedy. “It’s been an awesome experience, and I think it’s one of those things that will stick with these kids for the rest of their lives.”

Daniel Leon
A native of Woodlake, Daniel Leon is a recent graduate of Fresno State with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. Daniel served as Sports Editor at The Collegian, Fresno State’s student-run newspaper, prior to joining the Roundup. Got a story idea? Email him at