Jeremiah Thoronka: 21-Year-old Sierra Leonean wins $100,000 Chegg.Org Global Student Prize for his contribution to combat energy poverty. The True Life Story Of Jeremiah Thoronka.
Jeremiah’s project has helped power over 150 households and 15 schools in Sierra Leone at minimal cost, which has benefitted over 10,000 people, and provides best practice training on energy efficiency and conservation to the younger generation.
The awards recognize outstanding Commonwealth young people whose projects are transforming lives in their communities and helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
More than 1,000 entries from 43 Commonwealth countries were received last year. The finalists were selected across each of the award’s regional categories following a rigorous judging process.
Here is an interview with Sallu Kamuskay and Jeremiah Thoronka, the winner from Sierra Leone, son of single parent whose mother battled with cancer while trying to pay his fees.
1)You tweeted about you being a child of a single parent, tell us about your experience growing up with your single parent?
“I grow up in different places, under different circumstance and, all of these cause different effects on my life. I am who I am today because of the experiences that I’ve faced. Since birth, my survival anchored on my mum. During the most challenging and definitive period of my life, it was my mum that took up the responsibility of two young boys. As many young kids with since parents who are illiterate, we were not spared from the stereotype that comes with kids living with their mum. Taking care of two young boys just after the civil war from a hous- help job while battling breast cancer was very challenging for her, I witnessed how she has to take loans, credits, join osusu etc in making sure we get everything we wanted even though that was not always the case. I could sense the stress, trauma, and depression she has to go through every night when it’s time to refund those loans and credit. The struggles she went through in making ends meet was her daily routine.
However, growing up with a single parent is special, even though it’s not easy. The greatest lesson I learnt from her is “if you don’t like your situation, then create your destiny” Rather unfortunately, we lost this amazing woman to cancer in 2017, but her legacy of perseverance and dedication to a cause lives in every breath I take.”
2) Tell us about yourself and experience growing up in Sierra Leone?
“I am an Experienced Renewable energy entrepreneur and scholar with a demonstrated history of working as an Author and Entrepreneur in the sector.
In Sierra Leone, over 89% of the population suffers from energy deficiency. In my community, firewood and charcoal were the only sources of light and heat for necessities such as students studying or families cooking food. Photochemical smog – a negative consequence of burning coal – causes air pollution, water pollution and respiratory problems among peers in his community. I used my skills in science to develop Optim Energy, an innovative piezoelectric device that harnesses energy from heat, vibrations and weather, all which naturally occur in the environment, to create affordable, accessible and clean power. Since 2017, I have grown Optim Energy into a larger initiative aiming to build a sustainable energy sector in Sierra Leone, diminish greenhouse gas emissions and educate citizens on climate change. Optim Energy has powered 150 homes and student centers free of cost to date. I was recognized as a 2019 United Nations Academic Impact and Millennium Campus Network Fellow and invited to present at the 2019 African Leadership University School of Wildlife Conservation Conference. I was recognised as a Student Energy Fellow, and also serving as a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld. I am currently working to improve the Optim Energy prototype to provide a higher voltage of power and officially launch the product. In 2020, I will officially establish the Sierra Leone Student Energy and Conservation organization to foster a generation of energy conservation leaders through service, research, and awareness. I am on a mission to rewrite the African energy access narrative by providing clean, affordable energy to the entire continent. I attended the Baptist Model Primary School in Grafton and then proceeded to the Saint Edward’s Secondary School in Kingtom before admitted among the first cohort of leaders at the African Leadership University in Rwanda. Jeremiah studied Global Challenges with a focus on Energy and Climate Change.”
- You were listed for this year’s Commonwealth awards. How do you feel about this recognition?
“It’s amazing to be internationally recognized for how your project (s) or initiative (s) are changing lives. About a year ago, I was recognized as a Global Teen Leader for my role in making Energy accessible in my local community, but been recognized by the commonwealth as a change-maker is something worth celebrating. This recognition is a testament to how single mothers are doing everything possible in making their kids achieve dreams they were never able to achieve.”
4)Tell us about the problems you are trying to solve back home and what inspired you.
“Sierra Leone’s existing energy systems are old angled and thus unable to meet the country’s current and projected energy demand. Access to modern energy services remains limited, which results in over 89% of the population living without electricity and nearly 96% relying on traditional solid biomass for cooking. Sierra Leoneans have become accustomed to the constant interruption in electricity flow since the power grid that was supposed to provide electricity has not been able to meet demand. Worse yet, the country’s aging infrastructure is increasingly outdated.
Reliable and stable electrical power grids are indispensable to the seamless running of industries, homes, and businesses. The connection of large generation stations through high voltage transmission systems have been impaired by the constant power outage and the inefficiency of systems to withstand the change in demand. Over time, many have realized and come to the conclusion the current grid systems are dangerously prone to failure. As a result, most industries and businesses rely on diesel generators to meet their energy needs. As a young energy enthusiast aiming to solve these challenges, I aim to use entrepreneurial leadership in developing new and improved energy systems that will be sustainable and equitable for generations to come.”
5) What is your message to young people in Sierra Leone?
“Don’t wait for change, you are the change maker you seek. Take that risk, take up that challenge, and brainstorm like no one before you. The solutions we seek are within our hands.”