Sara Isaac: My day without electricity


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University of Michigan ONE Campus volunteer Sara Isaac decided to go 24 hours without using electricity. What she found surprised and frustrated her, and gave her the motivation to keep speaking out about the millions of people who still do not have access to energy. 

I pulled open the shades and let the sunlight pour into my dorm room. “I can use natural light for a solid 10 hours, so this won’t be too bad,” I thought. My plan was to go without electricity for 24 hours to better empathize with the 7 in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa experiencing energy poverty every day.

Giving up 24 hours of electricity didn’t seem like a big sacrifice, considering that 90 million sub-Saharan African children live without reliable electricity each day. I wanted to do this to inspire other students to support the Electrify Africa Act, a bill that could bring power to 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. 

I’d planned those 24 hours to a tee: I would spend the first three or four hours doing all of the reading I’d fallen behind on, then I would have a couple of hours to myself to get philosophical and introspective, and then I’d knock on my hall-mates’ doors and we’d go for a walk. The final few hours would be spent sleeping.

Unfortunately nothing went according to plan.

Usually, I eat a Greek yogurt for breakfast. It dawned on me the morning of this challenge, however, that I wouldn’t be able to eat yogurt because preserving it required refrigeration. Instead, I opted for a whole wheat bagel with almond butter.

After breakfast came schoolwork. I had hundreds of pages of reading, multiple assignments, and scholarship applications to complete. I started by sifting through stacks of notes on my desk and scribbling words onto notebook paper. It was all going really well until I started writing an essay for a public policy course I’m taking. Like everyone else I know, I always type my essays.

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Naturally, I grabbed my laptop. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t use it. Instead, I picked up a notebook and a pencil and proceeded to handwrite the two-page essay, (I figured I could type that up the next day, anyway). Three and a half hours later, frustrated and discouraged, I put the notebook down. I was finally done. It took me more than two hours longer to write and cite that essay than it would have if I had access to a laptop.

Over the course of the day, several of my friends knocked on my door. “Where have you been?! I’ve been calling you all day!” I explained that I couldn’t charge my phone or use it to communicate with them, so I shut it off.

This proved dangerous later on, as I ran a few miles around Ann Arbor. It was dark outside and, in my zeal to understand what sub-Saharan women experience when walking at night, I purposefully ran on streets with dim and sparse streetlights.

I was lucky enough to have a friend accompany me, but not all sub-Saharan women are so fortunate. I was afraid, hyper-cautious and annoyed that I couldn’t be with my own thoughts on what could have potentially been a great run.

But that’s what this experience was all about: potential–wasted potential, specifically.

After eating raw fruits and vegetables for dinner, (I couldn’t eat the oven-roasted chicken the dining hall was serving, as good as it looked), I ended my ONE day without electricity thinking about all of the things I could have accomplished that day: editing and finalizing my public policy essay, submitting two or three scholarship applications, finding an apartment to live in next year, checking the answers to my statistics homework, downloading the study guide and preparing for my psych exam. The list is endless.

Instead, I sat in the dark, irritated, until I finally called it quits and shut my eyes at 8 p.m.

Without electricity, I was unproductive and powerless. The point is, I’m just one person who didn’t fulfill her potential in a single, 24-hour period. It’s about time we think about the 589 million Africans who don’t fulfill their potential and endure hardship every single day because of energy poverty.

Do you think you could live a day without power? Share your thoughts in a comment below.


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