Naparima College helps San Fernando community through ‘solar-ponics’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

(L-R) Digicel Foundation Director Pamela Sankar, Shell TT performance and social investment advisor Ryssa Brathwaite, Naparima College acting principal Roger Ali, and Naparima College science department head Hema Jaggernauth view some of the hydroponic towers following the launch of the school’s green initiative – Photo by Rishard Khan

Naparima College has a reputation for academic success, particularly in natural sciences. Now, students of the San Fernando school are using this penchant to help members of the community through a solar-powered hydroponics project.

In just over a year, students of the school’s Interact Club were able to donate produce to homes for the aged and share expertise with neighbouring schools to set up similar systems.

Head of the school’s science department Hema Jaggernauth said this all stemmed from a hydroponics project which began in 2022 in response to the covid19 pandemic’s effect on students.

“We had students suffering from anxiety, students who have problems socialising and…you had students from lower-income backgrounds (and) they had problems accessing food,” she said.

She said the class of 2022/23 held a barbecue and part of the funds raised was used to buy a hydroponics tower. Hydroponics is the technique of growing plants using water-based nutrient solutions rather than soil.

The project, Jaggernauth said, is “all about giving back. It’s about bringing a social awareness to our students about realising there are many persons who don’t have access to facilities that we have, don’t have access to the things that they may have at home.”

She said two additional units were provided by ProtofabTT and one through funding from Atlantic LNG.

“That was in January of 2023 we started. and as we went along we learnt about disease, farming techniques, how to use the system, the children learnt about how to use the chemicals, how to maintain pH,” she said.

During this period, she said, the students used their knowledge to assist ASJA Girls’ College, San Fernando, to set up two hydroponics towers.

In March, the school applied for the Extraordinary Projects Impacting Communities (EPIC) grant from the Digicel Foundation in partnership with Shell TT. By September, the school was one of ten entities selected for the $100,000 grant to fund projects centred on agriculture, the environment and renewable energy. With it, the school bought more towers and installed 12 solar panel units that power the hydroponic system and all four science laboratories.

On June 29, the school will host a green market, the proceeds of which will go partly towards the project and to help get similar systems into neighbouring schools.

“We would like to get them on board, because, here’s what, it’s about reducing our carbon footprint.”

The school has donated produce to the JC McDonald Home for the Aged and the St Vincent De Paul Home for the Aged. It also donates some to students in need. Additionally, Jaggernauth said the students held sessions with students from the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities, using their knowledge and experience to educate them about hydroponics and help create a similar system.

Speaking at the launch of the school’s green initiative, Digicel Foundation director Pamela Sankar said it has given out some $7.2 million since 2016 to over 150 projects. This, she said, had an impact on over 80,000 people in the country. However, she said the school’s project was unique, as it focused on helping the community.

“Helping yourself and your immediate school community is congratulatory (sic). However, to include others who are more vulnerable is what really makes the world spin, and for that we applaud you.”

Shell TT performance and social investment adviser Ryssa Brathwaite reiterated to the students that their project is much more than simply growing plants.

“You’re nurturing resilience (and) self-sufficiency within the school and the surrounding community. You’re fostering a connection to the land, to our cultural heritage, to the communities and to each other.

“Harnessing the power of that very hot sun to reduce the electricity bills of the schools, and feeding your wider community, to the green market – it really takes this project to a whole other level,” she said.