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SolarSPELL Digital Library for Nakivale Primary Schools

SolarSPELL provides access to culturally relevant, meaningful information for all learners through offline, solar-powered digital libraries.

Photo of Alexis Sammon
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Of the 16.1 million refugees worldwide, over half are children, and 6 million are of primary school age, as reported by UNHCR. A lack of education heightens the risk of prolonging the conflicts that have created the refugee crisis and perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence, displacement, and lost educational opportunities. As the number of people forcibly displaced by violence grows, the resources available for meeting the needs of these people shrink, and resources devoted to education are often the first to go. Education is often provided via emergency funding, which only suffices for short-term use and is subject to political climates that do not always advocate for refugee support. Displaced people are often seeking refuge in other developing nations that are struggling to meet the needs of their own citizens, compounding the challenge of securing adequate funding for refugee education. This is the case in Uganda, where SolarSPELL is working to provide educational resources to the Nakivale refugee settlement. Access to quality education is critical for children to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive throughout their lives. It is even more crucial for refugee children, who, in addition to losing their homes, often lose their parents, relatives, and years of education due to conflict, making the adversity they face even more challenging. However, funding constraints mean education for refugee children is often considered a luxury, an inessential extra after meeting basic needs. Despite refugee settlements’ best efforts, schools continue to be significantly overcrowded and under-resourced, making it essential to leverage innovative, affordable technology that transcends infrastructural barriers to address these challenges. SolarSPELL is an easy to use, solar-powered, offline digital library that was developed to overcome barriers to accessing relevant, meaningful educational information in the hardest-to-reach settings.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The Nakivale Refugee Settlement was established in Uganda in 1958. Nakivale is home to over 62,000 refugees with 35,000 Ugandan nationals in surrounding communities benefiting from the water, education, and health programs provided by the settlement. Windle International Uganda (WIU) is the leading provider of education in the area, and thus, has the potential to transform their primary, secondary, and vocational school curricula with the resources that SolarSPELL libraries provide.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The curation of a digital library for Nakivale is informed by our local partner, WIU. We compile educational resources that are regionally and culturally relevant to Ugandan nationals and the diverse populations coexisting in the settlement. These resources allow teachers to put the national curriculum into context their students understand, increasing learner comprehension. After school, all residents are welcome to access these resources, fostering community-wide cultural exchange.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Leveraging affordable, off-grid technology has the potential to equip displaced individuals with the knowledge and skills to thrive in the face of adversity. Access to these resources can facilitate capacity building, improve the quality of educational resources available to teachers and learners, and increase opportunities for refugee students to imagine and actualize futures for themselves far beyond what they have previously known. The SolarSPELL library mimics an online experience, so that even in the absence of Internet connectivity, crucial skills like information literacy and digital competency can be developed. These vital skills empower learners with the information to define their own development goals and the knowledge to address the complex global challenges facing them. SolarSPELL’s library establishes a foundation for students of all ages to be lifelong learners, ready to encounter the endless possibilities a digital world has to offer.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

SolarSPELL technology improves the quality of education WIU provides by equipping schools with thousands of new educational resources. Teachers have increased access to the national curriculum and supplemental materials that increase learning comprehension, such as lesson plans and guides, books, and videos. Our library also contains training resources, so teachers have the opportunity to further develop their own skills as educators and facilitators. The digital library fosters student curiosity, providing a platform that facilitates self-driven learning inside and outside of the classroom. During after-school sessions, community members are able to access library resources that can help improve agricultural practices, health education, and cross-cultural understanding. There are endless possibilities for the type of content that can be added to SolarSPELL libraries, all of which are curated to local needs and uses.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

After working in the field on various projects aimed at increasing access to solar power and then to Internet connectivity, we quickly encountered the many barriers that come with technological implementation in the developing world. We found that internet connections are only one damaging storm away from being completely destroyed, that laptops are still too advanced of a technology for first-time users to explore on their own, and that the efficacy of educational materials diminish when lacking cultural relevance. Out of these challenges, the SolarSPELL digital library was born. Our offline, solar-powered, locally relevant digital library has the ability to empower teachers and learners to access educational opportunities, regardless of their infrastructure constraints. SolarSPELL’s daily work is to continually find innovative ways to improve in each of these areas: fail-proof technology; teacher training and ongoing support; and providing locally-relevant, useful information.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Nakivale is home to a large, diverse population of Ugandan nationals and refugees from across Africa. WIU has undertaken the task of educating nearly 21,000 students who live in and around Nakivale. Even with government support, the resources needed to provide for education are limited. Despite their best efforts, student to teacher ratios are still far above government standards and schools remained under-resourced. The average primary school student is only guaranteed access to playing materials and water, and WIU aims to improve its textbook to student ratio. Many of the students WIU serves are classified as unaccompanied minors, having lost their parents due to conflict prior to arriving in Nakivale. Those who are 15 or older are deemed the head of their household and are the main provider for their families. To those who have faced such incredible adversity, a quality education is even more important in empowering them to meet the demands of their new life.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Uganda has long been an international leader in progressive refugee policy, allowing WIU to refine its policies and educational practices in the country over the course of decades. This makes the WIU schools in Nakivale the perfect place for implementation of the SolarSPELL digital library. The teachers in the settlement are highly skilled, but have insufficient access to educational resources which stifles their success. Our digital libraries will help teachers to overcome these barriers and foster deeper classroom learning. Ultimately, the strength of SolarSPELL libraries lies in how its users apply their newfound knowledge. Access to information, be it relevant to health and wellness, literacy, or agricultural practices, empowers people to identify their needs, leverage their strengths, and ultimately develop their own solutions for the challenges they face in their communities.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

SolarSPELL is an initiative of Arizona State University, leveraging the research and innovative capacities of the institution to continually curate and improve our digital libraries. Taking these to the field in Uganda, we have developed a strong partnership with WIU to have our libraries placed in as many hands as possible in their schools. WIU provides education to over 20,000 students in Nakivale across nearly every level of education. As we scale out our implementation in Nakivale, we aim to see SolarSPELL devices being used in all these areas and in the community at large. We will lean on local Rotary Club volunteers to facilitate community learning sessions with our devices, providing invaluable access to library resources to those who are unable to attend formal schooling. Most importantly, we collaborate with users to expand and refine the resources we provide, ensuring they remain relevant to local needs and interests.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

SolarSPELL is an easy to use, solar-powered, offline digital library that was developed to facilitate capacity building and knowledge development in the most resource-constrained communities on the planet. We have implemented this technology in some of the most remote areas in the Pacific Islands and East Africa, and communities have already realized positive educational and health-related outcomes. Now that we have extensively field-tested our technology and implementation model, we are seeking out ways to apply them to different types of populations, such as that of the Nakivale refugee settlement. This expansion allows us to further localize the content we have curated for East Africa, as well as explore new ways to meet the information needs of a refugee settlement with a diverse cultural makeup.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Tempe, Arizona


Join the conversation:

Photo of Temba Vicent

Hello there,


Thank you very much. How your idea empower the displaced people or Wellcome community to support refugees?

Thank you Temba

Photo of Alexis Sammon

Hello Temba Vicent ! Thank you for your question.

Our idea empowers displaced people by increasing their access to thousands of capacity-building resources. We would be welcoming the host community to support refugees by providing their schools, who serve refugee learners, with educational resources. This will further enable our local partner Windle and the community to provide quality education. The resources on the SolarSPELL digital library have the potential to impact stakeholders in the following ways:

Teacher Impact
- Providing new lesson plans and suggested class activities, optimized for low-resource
- Opportunities for teachers to engage in ongoing training and education relevant to their
- New types of resources (videos and interactive digital education simulations) for engaging
in course curriculum

Student Impact
- Consistent access to quality educational resources after years of educational
- A more engaging class environment will be created, with the potential to increase students
curiosity, participation, and attendance
- Increased opportunities for exploring their interests outside of subjects mandated by the
national curriculum

Community Impact
- Opportunities for learners of all ages to access educational materials of interest
- Increased access to health care information can lift community health outcomes
- Increased access to information on agricultural practices can increase livelihood,
empowering refugees toward a more prosperous future

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