A Bovina man who volunteered to offer his expertise in solar power to help provide electricity in foreign, rural villages found himself in New Orleans last week working on Brad Pitt's project to build eco-friendly homes.
Bob Morris said he contacted SELF, or Solar Electric Light Fund, and volunteered his services as a technician to go to Nepal and Tibet.
"It was kind of a fluke that I happened to volunteer, and within two or three days, Brad Pitt contacted SELF for help and I ended up in New Orleans," Morris said. "It was a rush thing to do a photovoltaic installation."
The initiative, called Make It Right, is Pitt's latest effort to help the area recover from Hurricane Katrina. The Oscar-nominated actor also worked with the environmental organization Global Green USA to build five single-family homes and an 18-unit apartment complex and community center earlier this year.
Morris said he was one of four full-time volunteers who worked with 15 to 20 daily volunteers to install solar panels in nine bright pink tent structures. Those tents represent the homes Pitt plans to build by the end of next summer.
Morris said the solar panels are placed on the roofs of nine of the structures, which are built on scaffolding. The panels produce electricity that goes into the grid during the day; at night, that power lights the pink tents.
The panels had to be installed in time for a media blitz that began last week to promote Make It Right, Morris said.
"The pink structures look kind of like a Christo thing," Morris said.
Christo's work includes "The Gates," a bright-orange art display in Central Park in 2005.
Morris said he never met Pitt, but saw him riding around on a bicycle.
Bob Freling, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based SELF, said when Make it Right asked for help, he contacted Morris.
"They had to get up nine large solar arrays in just a few days," Freling said Tuesday.
Pitt has pledged $5 million of his money toward the project and is campaigning for more donations.
Thirteen architects are involved in the project, which will have each home built on stilts as a precaution against flooding. To be eligible for a home, applicants must have previously owned property in the ward and will be expected to contribute what they can afford.
Pink was chosen for the tents, Pitt said in a media release, because "it screams the loudest. It says people are coming back."
Morris said he has been doing electrical work for about 45 years. While he was teaching at the State University College of Technology at Delhi, he said, he got interested in solar power.
Though retired from full-time teaching, Morris said he still teaches workshops in photovoltaic design and installation at SUNY Delhi but hopes to be able to do solar installs in places such as Africa and Cambodia.
"Can you imagine what it means to a family to have just one light and a radio?" Morris asked. "Electricity changes people's lives. With solar power, they can have refrigeration, pump water and do countless things we take for granted."
For more information on the New Orleans project, visit www.makeitrightnola.org, www.globalgreen.org and www.self.org.
Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at email@example.com.