For years, Raleigh has worked hard to transform itself into a city of environmental sustainability and innovation. The capital city even created an Office of Sustainability and has been recognized nationally as a leader in the field.
A group of visitors from several countries in Africa are on a three week tour of the United States and stopped by Raleigh to see some of the city’s “green” transformation first-hand.
The group of 14 men and women represent African countries from the south, the east and the west. Their first stop was the downtown Raleigh Convention Center. Donna-maria Harris with Raleigh’s Office of Sustainability was the tour guide. She spoke slow and clear for an audience that included translators.
“And this tour is an opportunity for visitors and residents to actually see up close and personal how sustainability impacts their daily lives," Harris said.
Robert Hinson with the Sustainability Office escorted these African visitors to the rooftop where solar panels produce enough power to light 75 to 100 homes.
"This particular facility is a 500 kilowatt facility," Hinson told the visitors
Nkonzo Mhnongo lives in Durban, South Africa and works in the sugar industry. She held her tablet up high, recording and snapping photos of the solar panels atop the convention center. Mhnongo says she would like to see more projects like this back home.
"For us, this is quite, quite useful. You know, to say, even beyond just a household, business can actually look at this as an option," said Mhnongo. “For us solar, because we are also in South Africa looking at sustainable ways of generating electricity. So for us, this is one of the ideas we are looking at.”
After the climb down from the roof, the group walked a short block down Salisbury Street to see a solar powered electric vehicle charging station, a rare sight in North Carolina. The men in the group seemed especially impressed.
“So the car can go up to 90 miles?" asked one of the visitors.
Walters Chin is from the southwest region of Cameroon. This is his first time in the United States and actually, this trip to the states was his first time on an airplane. So the 25-year-old Chin did not hesitate to ask if he could take a spin in Harris’ Nissan Leaf.
"This is my first time driving an electric car," Chin explained. "So it is really an accomplishment because I think many people didn’t know I would do it and I did it.”
Chin manages a sustainable tourism non-profit that teaches teenagers to be hikers and tour guides.
“The whole idea about going green really blows me off right back at home, because in ‘going green’ back at home... we are planting trees. But coming (to) Raleigh, I’ve seen the other part of ‘going green’ which is all about solar panel, and it is something that I’m not used to or it’s something I have never seen.”
Chin and the others are a part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The group stopped in New York and Washington, D.C before Raleigh.
The International Affairs Council of North Carolina requested the Raleigh walking tour to meet visitors’ requests to see sustainability and innovation in action.
Emmanuel Wambo is from Cameroon and works in micro-finance. Wambo says he appreciates the way government and even universities put citizens at the center of their work.
“Where I’m from, universities are kind of removed. It’s more theoretical, it’s not really on the ground. So that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, that universities are really involved in research and technology,” Wambo said, with the help of interpreter Meredith Rogers.
The visitors certainly learned a lot on their tour. Harris says she learned a lot too.
“The thing I liked about this group, is that they had a knowledge base and they are entrepreneurs. So they were asking questions, not just about the technology itself, but about the financing, about the financing behind the technology. They made sure were on our P’s and Q’s.”
After Raleigh, these African visitors headed to San Francisco and then Chicago.