African school built by the awesome power of Vancouver rock

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      A benefit concert at the Shark Club on Friday (January 13) will hopefully supply the funds to finish a groundbreaking volunteer effort to build a new school in Africa. Susan Bibbings dreamt up Project Tujifunze in 2009 after years of organizing clothing drives for the village of Mwanza, in Tanzania. When she visited Mwanza in 2009, she realized that “what these kids really needed was an education.”

      “I mulled it over for a while,” Bibbings told the Straight, “and then I woke up one morning and said to my husband, ‘I need to find a way to build that village a school.’ And he said, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t see that coming…’

      Thus began Bibbings’ extraordinary four year mission, in which she partnered with the students at BCIT's Architectural Sciences Faculty to design “the most low-cost, sustainable school they could come up with.” Meanwhile, because only roughly six percent of the country has access to an unreliable electrical grid, Bibbings invited electronic engineering students from Imperial College of London to supply her school with mini solar power stations, something they’d already pioneered in Rwanda with their e.quinox program.

      Rather brilliantly, the excess power is sold back to the village, while a related portable battery exchange program is designed to undercut all the unsustainable energy options previously in place. “The energy stream from our power station covers the operating costs of our school, along with very low monthly fee that we have to charge; five dollars a month. I originally hoped to make it a free school, but I discovered that if you don’t charge anything, you can’t get kids to attend.”

      It’s quite the package, made all the more remarkable considering that—beyond the donation of supplies like a shipping container from DP World, and teflon sails from BC Place— it was wholly financed by noisy Vancouver musicians like Zippy Pinhead, Jesus Krysler, and Tim Plommer of the band 22nd Century, which makes a return visit to the fourth annual benefit, dubbed Skoolaid, on Friday (Plommer is actually Bibbings’ brother-in-law, and he originally suggested raising funds through the awesome power of rock). Still Living at Home, and Incognito round out the bill. “The final Skoolaid is on Friday, and I hop on a plane to open the school on Tuesday,” said Bibbings.

      In a call to the Straight, 22nd Century bassist Duane Chaos remarked, “We have no illusions that we’re ever gonna make a million dollars off of rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s this intangible, great feeling you get knowing there’s this school in Tanzania with your band’s name on it.”