Mayan Power and Light



The Appropriate Technology Collaborative is teaching indigenous Mayan women about electricity, circuits and solar power, and we are starting three women owned solar businesses in Guatemala.  We have five years experience designing and installing solar power systems in homes and community buildings throughout Guatemala.  From our experience we find solar power businesses are successful and sustainable.  The ATC Mayan Power and Light (MPL) program consists of three important elements: 1.  teaching “Circuits and Solar” a class that teaches how to design solar power systems, 2. providing a hands-on carpentry workshop, and 3. starting woman owned solar businesses.


Guatemala is the third poorest country in the western hemisphere.[1]  Malnutrition is endemic with 1 of every 2 children chronically malnourished.  Lack of education, particularly for girls, coupled with high fertility rates keep women and families trapped in poverty.

There is a proven way to break the cycle of poverty by providing girls with education and opportunity.  According to data from demographic and health surveys for nine Latin American countries, women with little education have large families of 6-7 children, whereas better educated women have family sizes of 2-3 children.[2]  Women’s education leads to higher incomes and smaller, healthier families.

The goal of Mayan Power and Light is to teach young Mayan women about electricity, circuits and solar power and to start women owned solar power businesses.

Women’s technical education through ATC’s Circuits and Solar workshops provides young Guatemalan women an understanding of the technology that fuels the 21st century while at the same time teaching critical technical skills needed to become solar designers and technicians. To support our young students ATC’s Circuits and Solar workshops are conducted by women who are trained in the curriculum, and who mentor rather than instruct students during the course of the workshop. Participants interact and learn from one another in a friendly, informal hands-on environment. The all-women workshops offer a rare environment to learn about technology in a positive setting.

Why solar?  There are 1.4 billion people worldwide living without access to electricity.[3]   Most of these people rely on expensive and polluting kerosene lamps and candles to see at night.  The World Health Organization has determined that individuals breathing kerosene fumes and soot inhale the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.[4]  In Guatemala solar power is a low cost replacement for kerosene lamps.  Small scale solar home energy systems are less expensive and less polluting than kerosene lamps and they provide much better light.  Solar power is an opportunity to make a living in sustainable, clean technology.

Mayan Power and Light Solar Power Systems

Mayan Power and Light Solar Power Systems


More information on our Solar Power Systems:  ATC Solar Sales

A business that provides high value – low cost solar home energy systems can be self sustaining, providing jobs and improving the quality of life for every customer.  Solar power is a low cost alternative to burning candles and kerosene lamps.  Solar gives off no toxic fumes, it improves health.  We find Guatemalan families that convert from kerosene lamps and candles to solar light that the  women do a few extra hours of handicraft work such as weaving and needle-point in the evenings.  They have more material to sell in the market.  Their children do their homework at night for the first time.  Families save money because solar LED lights cost less, they make more money because they have more to sell in the market and their children do better in school because they can see well enough to read at night.  Women who start  solar businesses through the ATC Mayan Power and Light program will have clean tech jobs and become role models for women everywhere.

Program Update:  ATC  started the first Mayan Power and Light solar business in Guatemala in December of 2013.  Soluciones Energeticas Appropriadas (SEA) is owned by five women and one man.  The SEA team has experience incubating  successful clean-tech businesses in Guatemala and they will be providing  new business support services for future Mayan Power and Light businesses, both in Guatemala and in other Latin American and Caribbean countries.


ATC Circuits and Solar Workshop for Mayan Women 2013 – 2015

Women Carpentry Workshop 1200
Mayan Women Learn Carpentry at CECAP School in Santa Cruz Guatemala

In 2013 we held the first part of the ATC workshop “Circuits and Solar” for Mayan women mentors and teachers who work with Mayan girls in Solola and Santiago, Guatemala, part of our Mayan Power and Light program.   Our local Engineers,  José Ordoñez and Carlos Alvarez taught the course at the CECAP school in Santa Cruz La Laguna.  The MPL workshop begins with an introduction to carpentry tools.  The CECAP facility is perfect for this because they have a well equipped shop plus they have an ATC solar demonstration project on the roof.  For the carpentry course, women are given an overview of carpentry tools and then given the challenge of building a wooden box to specified dimensions.  For many Mayan women this is the first time they have ever worked with carpentry tools, and from Mayan Power and Light feedback forms the carpentry workshop is very popular!


Mayan Women Learn Electronics
Mayan Women Learn Electronics
After completing the introduction to carpentry workshop, MPL students move on to learning about electricity, circuits and controls for circuits.  This part of the workshop includes the use of professional quality tools such as “bread boards” that allow you to easily connect various components of an electric circuit.  Students use volt meters, resistors, LEDs and a variety of fun electronic components like buzzers and photo diodes.  The electronics workshop is heart of the MPL program.  Women learn a lot about electricity in short period.

Jose Demonstrating and Woman Learning How To Wire Solar Power Systems
Jose Demonstrating and Women Learning How To Wire Solar Power Systems
Day two of the workshop focuses on creating circuits using solar hardware.  Each student receives an ATC “Kit Solar”. Each kit contains a complete solar power system that provides two bright LED lights plus a USB cell phone charger for homes that don’t have access to electricity.  Note:  Each home that lacks electricity burns candles and kerosene lamps to see at night.  With candles and kerosene you burn a lot of fuel and get relatively little light.  Also every member of a family that burns kerosene to see at night inhales a lot of toxic smoke.  In rural Guatemala pulmonary problems are the number one killer of children ages 6 months to five years.  Converting to solar saves lives!
Hands-On Learning
Hands-On Learning
The final part of the workshop is installing a solar power system on a home that lacks electricity.  Mayan women students do all the work and they do it like seasoned professionals!  The families that receive new solar power systems are often disconnected from the electric grid due to the high cost of electricity in Guatemala.  Note:  in most developing countries the cost of electricity is much higher than in the United States.  It is an unfortunate truth that the poor pay more for basic services than those of us who are more affluent.  However the high cost of electricity makes solar power a very attractive option for Guatemalans, and a great business opportunity.


Circuits and Solar Graduates
Circuits and Solar Graduates
I have visited the MPL workshops several times.  I usually don’t stay long, I just deliver a short message of encouragement, then the Guatemalan MPL team runs the program.  I do note a level of intensity and excitement at the workshops with the women asking lots of questions and having fun learning new skills.  I have reviewed the MPL workshops with the Director of Starfish, a women’s nonprofit in Panajachel (our partners for MPL) and she said that for many of the students this was a life changing experience.  The Mayan women never had imagined they could learn and accomplish so much in a technical field like solar power.  The ultimate goal of our Mayan Power and Light project is to help young Mayan start solar power businesses.  The workshop participants have already asked us for extra solar hardware for additional installations.
Why Women?
In less economically developed countries women are the poorest of the poor.  They often have less education than their male counterparts.  After a few years of basic school many young Mayan women stay home to help with household chores.  They marry young, have large families and are economically dependent.  Men in less economically developed countries try to scrape together a living off of their family farms, but after generations of sub-dividing farms between male sons, Mayan men often only have less than one acre to raise crops to sell and to feed their families.  Many desperate men search the cities looking for work.  They may travel abroad in an effort to find enough money to keep their families going.  A lot of men simply disappear, leaving their wives with little education, a large family and no marketable skills – in short, desperate poverty.
With our Mayan Power and Light program  ATC offers a solid Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum to women.  The women who learn “Circuits and Solar” and start solar power social ventures become role models to younger women.  Women who earn extra income invest about 90% in their families (whereas men only invest 30 – 40% in their families).  Women with more education are more likely to start families later in life and have healthier children.  Their children, including their daughters, are more likely to stay in school.  They get better jobs and in just one generation we end the cycle of poverty.
We Don’t Forget The Guys:
We will still be teaching several classes of Circuits and Solar that are open to the general public.  We have four classes scheduled for 2014.  From these classes we expect to find a core of people interested in starting a solar venture in western Guatemala.


We have been very fortunate to collaborate with Starfish One-By-One, an NGO that provides opportunities and mentoring for young Mayan women and our team from SEA who make learning technical subjects fun. We also thank Michael Smith of Ann Arbor who created the original Circuits and Solar curriculum and the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor and the IEEE Foundation who funded this workshop. Without our collaborative partners the Mayan Power and Light program would not be possible.

Mayan Power and Light is successful beyond our original goals.  We started this program with the intention of providing the Circuits and Solar workshop to a total of 4 women mentors and 24 Mayan Girls.  We are now on track to teach 12 mentors and over 100 young Mayan women.

In order to continue our success we need to find more funding so each girl can get a “Kit Solar” ($125.00 ea.) and have the experience of installing solar power on a home that lacks electricity.  We also need to pay for teachers, transportation, books and materials.

Please Help – Please consider a donation to this program through Global Giving:

Thank you,


John S. Barrie

Executive Director
The Appropriate Technology Collaborative
3796 Plaza Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
ph:   734.668.4811

[1] UN HDI, Human Development Index, 2009

[2] International Family Planning Perspectives, Volume 21, Number 2, June 1995

[3] World Bank Energy Facts Website 11.29.2012

[4] World Bank “Solar Lighting for the Base of the Pyramid – Overview of an Emerging Market” (2010): 14