Monterey County: PG&E Surprises Two Salinas Students with Trip to Kenya

By Mayra Tostado

SALINAS — PG&E has selected two students to embark on a 10-day humanitarian aid mission to Kenya to deliver solar suitcases as part of the company’s Better Together Classroom Grants.

The solar suitcase, created by We Share Solar, is a small, portable photovoltaic lighting system, powerful enough to illuminate a small room.


Sierra Hotz, left, and Leilani Cancio are the two Salinas High School seniors who will travel thanks to PG&E. (Photos by Mayra Tostado.)

Leilani Cancio and Sierra Hotz, both 17, were honored on Thursday (Dec. 17) by PG&E’s local government relations director, Papia Gambelin, and California State Assemblyman Luis Alejo for winning PG&E’s solar suitcase challenge.

“I’m very proud that PG&E sponsored this program to help inspire our young people here at Salinas High School to help solve the problems and issues of the 21st century, not only in their community, but in other parts of the world as well,” said Alejo.

Cancio and Hotz are part of the 10-student winning team at Salinas High School that applied for PG&E’s Solar Suitcase program by participating in a local sustainability project and video collaboration.

The Salinas school is one of three selected to participate in the international travel component of the program.

“Our focus was to do projects that we thought would be beneficial to our school and local community,” said Philip Deutschle, physics and astronomy instructor at Salinas High School. ”We’re trying to shift away from using fossil fuels, we’ve been going through a drought in California, so these are big issues we wanted to address in Salinas.”

Deutschle helped his students with their local sustainability projects which included creating a no-idle zone at school, encouraging the use of reusable water bottles, promoting energy efficiency and water conservation.


Assemblyman Luis Alejo and PG&E’s Papia Gambelin pose with the winning students.

“It was a team effort and we all worked really hard to get this done,” Cancio said. “I’m shocked that I’m going to Kenya, but I’ve always loved helping people and volunteering. I’m very thankful to PG&E for this life-changing opportunity.”

Besides Cancio and Hotz, the group included students Emilio Wilson, Theodore Rocha IV, Maya Hotz, Kathlyn Ragasa, Eduardo Flores Aguirre, Christopher Qui, Theo Brau and Bryan Alapisco.

Cancio and Hotz, chosen by a random drawing to travel to Kenya in February, will share sustainable energy education and deliver solar suitcases to Kenyan youth in need of lighting.

“These students have earned a rare opportunity to make a global impact by sharing the importance of clean energy and sustainable practices with their peers in Kenya,” said Rob Morse, senior manager of PG&E’s Central Coast Division. “This program is a terrific new example of the ways PG&E champions education in our communities. We’re excited to hear about the experiences these students will have in Kenya and where this opportunity might lead them in the future,”

PG&E will cover all expenses for the 10-day trip, including: airfare, three meals per day, accommodations, special excursions and passport and visa fees for students and chaperones.

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