By Tracy Correa Lopez
BAKERSFIELD — Evelyn Ramirez was still shaking and her mom was crying when they turned to each other and hugged.
The moment was so new and the North High School student had not yet caught up with her emotions.
“This is a dream for me, being able to serve others. I’m overwhelmed,” said Ramirez, 16, her voice quivering.
In a surprise announcement in front of more than 500 students today (Nov. 1), Ramirez and classmate Isaiah Lucero learned they were selected to go to Kenya as part of a service learning trip to deliver solar suitcases they helped build this year.
The trip is part of PG&E’s Solar Suitcase program that helps Northern and Central California high school students further their knowledge about the environment and sustainability through hands-on learning.
Earlier this year, PG&E selected 19 high schools to participate in the second year of the program and provided each school with more than $8,000 worth of equipment and professional development training in partnership with the nonprofit We Share Solar.
PG&E will cover all expenses for the 12-day trip that will send them and their teacher to Kenya in February to deliver suitcases to schools and community groups with the international nonprofit, WE Charity. Four more student winners at two other schools will be announced later this week.
But first, it was North High School’s time in the spotlight.
Before the two student winners were named, all four students who participated in the program along with their teacher, Juan Gomez, were congratulated and presented with certificates by PG&E.
“These students are committed to the education, the environment and making the world a better place,” said Mark Balch, North High principal.
Also on hand to commend the students was Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, who thanked PG&E for supporting the project and “the opportunity for allowing these students to shine.”
But everyone knew that only two students would be making the Kenya trip and PG&E’s Denise Newton was in charge of the announcement.
“I’m getting goosebumps… This is the trip of a lifetime,” said Newton, senior manager of PG&E’s Kern division.
When Newton announced that Ramirez and Lucero were going to Kenya, the two mothers sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium were visibly emotional.
“He (Isaiah) wanted to be one of the ones chosen,” said a teary-eyed Heidi Lucero, a few minutes after the announcement. “I told him this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Isaiah Lucero said he is excited about going to Kenya and learning about a new culture.
“The farthest I’ve ever been is to Idaho,” said the 16-year-old.
The We Share Solar Suitcase is a portable photovoltaic lighting system, powerful enough to illuminate a small room. PG&E supplied more than 100 We Share Solar Suitcases to the participating schools. We Share Solar trained the teachers and students to use them and learn the basic principles of producing clean energy.
Students who took part in this year’s program competed for the trip to Kenya by creating and submitting videos about local sustainability projects. North High School’s project was about a water conservation effort that stressed taking shorter showers.
Ramirez said she just can’t believe she will be going to Kenya soon.
“For us, to be able to provide that light in the world… It’s an amazing opportunity.”
See a video of last year’s student trip here.
Email Tracy Correa Lopez at Tracy.Correa@pge.com