By Samantha Tatro
June 20, 2017
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Dozens of Syrian refugees spent their Tuesday morning installing free solar panels for a low-income family in San Diego’s Oak Park neighborhood.
The refugees, in partnership with GRID Alternatives and Get Charged Up, worked through the rising temperatures to learn new skills and help the family in need.
The installation falls on World Refugee Day and Ramadan, organizers said, a challenge for some volunteers.
“We know it is tough working outdoors on any given day, but, some of the people working today are fasting,” said Faisal Elazzouzi, founder of Get Charged Up, a non-profit focused on providing energy education while protecting the environment.
The event hit home for Elazzouzi – he was a Lebanese refugee whose family fled the country in 1982.
“It’s very personal to me, myself, because I was a refugee at a young age myself and I know that a lot of people in our situations are extremely motivated,” he said. “We know we can contribute, we know we can change the world, we know we can change our situation by working very hard. And I know by experience and we see it here live today, that with a little bit of organization, a little bit of support, we can really turn things around, we can really provide jobs, and bring a brighter future to a whole family.”
Elazzouzi said as he grew up as a refugee, he met people along the way that helped him out and gave him opportunities, leading him to give back later in his life.
“There’s always been a helping hand,” he said. “So it just makes sense for me to do the same.”
The solar panels installed Tuesday will help homeowner Dexter, who lives on 55th Street with his wife. Lately, he said, he has been struggling to make ends meet as he takes care of his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I try to be as positive as possible…but there are moments where you have to deal with what is in my terms, reality,” he said.
Seeing the refugees work on his house all morning and into the afternoon, through the blazing sun, moved him.
“It’s a great thing to witness this to see it first hand. I was here when they started to arrive and I listened to them speaking their own dialect and to me that’s very moving, to see people from a different country, who have come from some difficult times, have an opportunity to get hands-on training,” Dexter said.
The solar panels will lower the cost of energy bills at the home and lower the family’s carbon footprint. In turn, the refugees will get hands-on training in solar installation.
“We never get tired of, we’re always eager to provide opportunities to people who want to seize those opportunities, help themselves, and build their skills and get a job in the industry,” said a representative with GRID Alternative. “We’ve seen many stories like that, people who come out here on their free time. They’re just trying to build a life, whether they’re coming from another country as a refugee or whether they’re in this country and want to change.”