International student gives up his own dreams for a greener Africa


Teejay Avans, sophomore physics major, founded Kani Africa and constructed a solar panel in the hope of having a green school in every country in Africa. Avans is from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. Photo by Jessica Yanesh.

Natalie Moses

Sophomore Teejay Avans is one of those familiar faces around campus. Whether he’s socializing at the Student Center or doing quantum physics homework late night at Rosie’s, you’ve probably seen him around before. This is a familiar face that you’re going to want to remember because he is the founder of the organization Kani Africa. The word Kani is coined from the Swahili word for energy, and this foundation’s goal is to bring energy to Africa. It’s still in the developmental stages, but it started with an idea full of potential and backed with a leader that has amazing foresight bound to touch thousands of lives.

“I want to use my applied physics degree towards the development of alternate energy which I think is crucial not only in Africa but worldwide.”

A year and a half ago, Avans arrived on campus just like many other nervous freshmen, except his journey here was a bit longer than most. He is from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.

“I chose Kent State because it offers avenues for hands-on experience in the various fields,” he said.

The field he chose was physics. When most people are adjusting to the culture shock of college life, Avans also had to adjust to a whole new country. However, most would agree that he instantly fit right in and got involved on campus.

Avans is a member of NAVs, a religious group on campus, and a treasurer in the Students for the Advancement of Science group. He works at Einstein Bros. Bagels in the Student Center and also does undergraduate physics research with Professor Almut Schroeder, which he said is “something I really love doing.” However, physics was not always his first choice as a major.

Avans started off as an aerospace engineering major because of his longtime passion for flight design. In an act of selflessness, Avans realized he had a bigger passion.

“I always wanted to make it possible for others in Africa who dreamt to be flight engineers to achieve their dreams, and for this reason, I sacrificed my dream,” Avans said.

It was this decision that led Avans to Kani, Africa.

This non-profit organization “seeks to revolutionize the continent of Africa and ultimately change the dark image that has been tainted of it and its people,” Avans said.

He plans on doing this by building self-sustaining schools, which means they’ll run on alternate energy sources, like solar panels in impoverished rural villages of Africa. This will bring education to children who otherwise wouldn’t have such an opportunity. Once these schools are established, Avans said they will be a great addition to the community.

“Kani Africa will support innovative ideas by the students in these schools; ideas that can be directly applied to their communities in areas where they may need help.”

He plans for these ideas to be supported through scholarships and funding in order to integrate them into their communities.

Kani will promote the green energy movement. It will implement awareness campaigns “as the blueprint for development” in Africa. The ultimate goal for the future of Africa is to establish a green school in every country on the continent. He wishes to see Africa move forward on its own because it relies too heavily on foreign donors, which he said, “in as much as helping Africa…lead to the perception that Africa cannot help itself.”

“I believe Kani Africa will change this,” Avans said. “Knowledge is power. Energy is power. I believe that if Africa is to develop and show the world that it is a force to be reckoned with, the change has to be self-driven.”

Starting this foundation has been a long process. Last year, Avans built the website

and, with the help of his friend, constructed a solar panel.

“I also started on the legal work, which was both expensive and cumbersome,” he said. He recently set up a board of directors that include Laurie Walker, a faculty member in the College of Business Administration, and Kendra Sherbourne, senior family studies major. Before this semester ends, the group plans on having a few information sessions. By the time next semester rolls around, look out for tables set up by Kani Africa and the Student for the Advancement of Science Club that will be passing out T-shirts and flyers for more information on getting involved with the organization. The first Kani Africa project is projected to happen in the summer of 2012.

Though Kani Africa is still in its first stages of development, it could be a huge step in Africa’s advancement in education and green alternative energy technology. Many factors motivated Avans to get involved in this movement, but one thought particularly fuels his passion. With a smile, he said, “The fact that I know it is possible inspires me.”

Contact Natalie Moses at [email protected].