Kenyan's mission: solar lamps to empower the poor

Jan 27, 2011 by Helen Vesperini
Evans Wadongo holds up one of his solar-powered LED lamps at his workshop in a Nairobi suburb. Not yet 25, Evans has already changed the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow Kenyans living in poor rural communities by supplying them with some 15,000 lamps since producing the first one from pieces of fabricated scrap metal and discarded solar equipment in 2004.

Evans Wadongo is not yet 25 but has already changed the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow Kenyans living in poor rural communities by supplying them with solar lamps.

As a child growing up in west , Wadongo struggled to do his homework by . He was caned at school if his family ran out of fuel for the lamp, and he permanently damaged his eyesight by sitting over the smoky fumes when they did have kerosene.

But his father, whom he describes as a teacher who was "very strict" and "my greatest inspiration", saw that he completed his studies and made it into university.

Once there, Wadongo started wondering how to improve conditions for children in communities similar to his home village -- and there are many. Though Kenya is one of the richest countries in east Africa, more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

The young man had always wanted to help people but did not have the stomach to go into medicine, so he opted for engineering. He was only 19 when he invented his first solar lamp after using part of his student loan to buy what he needed.

"Then, I never thought it would take off on this scale. I just wanted to take one to my grandma," he recalled.

Some 15,000 lamps have been turned out since production started in 2004, and Wadongo says his goal is to hit 100,000 by 2015.

"I started in the village where I grew up and I saw kids going from primary into high school," he told AFP.

He has no time for Kenya's political class, accusing them of "wanting people to remain poor so that they can stay in power".

For Wadongo, the lamps are not an end in themselves, but rather "a way to lift people out of poverty."

Jeniffer David, 47, hangs her solar-lamp outside her mud-brick house to get some sunlight at Chumbi village, some 50 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. David says the lamp has changed her family's life. Now, her children can read and study in the evening, without cost or nuisance.

He and his team from the "Use Solar, Save Lives" project start by identifying impoverished communities that rely for lighting on kerosene lamps -- when they can afford the fuel. They hand out 30 lamps to a community association, often a women's group, and encourage the locality to pool the money each family has saved by no longer buying kerosene.

When the fund accumulates the group can use it for a project, such as fish farming or rabbit breeding.

Nomadic communities get a special model of lamp for easier transport.

Typical is Chumbi village, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) outside Nairobi where Wadongo gets an enthusiastic welcome.

"They all want lamps," smiles Agnes Muthengi, a representative from a local association, the Kalima Kathei Women's Fellowship, who accompanied him to the village.

Jennifer David, 47, lives in a mud-brick house flanked by outbuildings made largely from scrap metal.

Next door, a field of maize wilts for lack of water. David's husband is a casual day labourer and work is hard to come by. Her only other source of income is a fledgling rabbit breeding business. But with one rabbit only fetching the equivalent of one euro ($1.3) locally and one of the five children sick and in a home, life is a struggle.

A slogan painted on rusted corrugated iron informs the visitor that the inhabitants "trust in Jesus". Hanging on a post in the yard, one of Wadongo's lamps is charging.

A villager at Chumbi village, some 50 kilometres southeast of Nairobi, reads with the aid of a solar-powered lamp in her house. She is among the villagers in the east African country who have benfited from solar-powered LED lamps innovated by Kenyan Evans Wadongo.

"Since I got this lamp things have changed," David told AFP. "Before I was using kerosene. It smelled and gave off a lot of smoke and I was using a lot of money to buy the kerosene."

Now, her children can read and study in the evening, without cost or nuisance.

Wadongo plans to extend his project to neighbouring countries -- Uganda is next on the list. He is already training interns, not only from Kenya and elsewhere in Africa but also from US universities. He also aims to decentralise production of the , thus providing work for unemployed youths.

The young engineer is also planning a "model" village at Nyaobe in the west of this country, which straddles the equator. Residents will be hooked up to a local solar-powered grid and will have access to Internet.

"If every one of us started thinking about others before thinking about ourselves the world would be better," he says.

Explore further: Matched 'hybrid' systems may hold key to wider use of renewable energy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Solar Cells with LEDs Provide Inexpensive Lighting

Nov 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Of the 1.5 billion people in developing countries who do not have electricity, many rely on kerosene lamps for light after the sun goes down. But now, researchers from Denmark have designed ...

Solar lantern lights up rural India's dark nights

Oct 23, 2009

For more than 100 Indian villages cut off from grid electricity, life no longer comes to an end after dark thanks to an innovative solar-powered lantern that offers hope to the nation's rural poor.

A bright future with solar lanterns for India's poor

Apr 27, 2009

Solar energy has the potential to improve the living conditions of poor rural households in India as well as contribute to the country's future energy security, according to Professor Govindasamy Agoramoorthy from Tajen University, ...

X-rays shine light on high-intensity gas lamps

Apr 21, 2005

An X-ray technique developed by physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is helping to improve the design and energy efficiency of the bright white lights often used to illuminate ...

Recommended for you

Shedding light on solar power

9 hours ago

Everyone wants to save energy, but not everyone knows where to start. Grid Resources, a startup based out of the Centre for Urban Energy's iCUE incubator, is developing a new website that seeks to help homeowners ...

Energy transition project moves into its second phase

10 hours ago

Siemens is studying new concepts for optimizing the cost-effectiveness and technical performance of energy systems with distributed and fluctuating electricity production. The associated IRENE research project ...

Smart data increases the efficiency of wind farms

12 hours ago

Siemens monitors thousands of wind power plants around the world to operate them as efficiently as possible. The company recently opened a remote diagnostics center in Brande, Denmark, where sensor data from ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TJ_alberta
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2011
this is a better way to help the people of africa than western governments giving money to often corrupt regeimes.
http://sustainabledevelopmentforall.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=41&Itemid=49
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2011
The pushing of this "appropriate technology" by Agence France Presse and Phyorg.com is racist WWF crap. Franklin Roosevelt successfully implemented rural electrification 70 years ago in the United States!! The whole premise that Africa has a different culture than the west and we can't impose our values on them, is nothing more than a thinly disguised ruse for international finance to continue extracting resources cheaply from that continent unimpeded , i.e. loot them. The gullible mis-educated liberal that swallows this and similar propagandistic tripe is culpable in what is tantamount to deliberate genocide because they put the blinders of denial whenever they are confronted with the glaring light of truth.
tarheelchief
not rated yet Jan 28, 2011
This application of solar power should show the way to other applications. Electrification of villages can occur with a village or tribal based solar panel system.It is the research being done in the EU, China, US,Brazil,and India which will lead to the creation of a simple cheap solar panels.The larger problem for villagers is clean water and how to recycle the water they do have for themselves and their animals.Experiments in Arizona have led to much better systems.The conflicts in Africa remain too wedded to the violent past of the tribal entities. Drawing a map does not unite people,nor does it provide the social support system needed.Those who assume this is a racial problem ignore the Chinese,Japanese,Koreans, and other Asian nations which have overcome years of fragmentation to pull together.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2011
Balogna. Solar power can never achieve the energy flux density of nuclear power. (Please educate yourself about this, the increasing efficiency argument is completely bogus.) Why isn't the so called advanced sector exporting third generation nuclear power plants to these countries? Simple. To continue their enslavement to resource extraction. Why hasn't the US embarked upon a massive building of high speed maglev rail systems and the NAWAPA fresh water irrigation and canal system? Simple. To keep us enslaved to the international financial derivative gambling casino to which both political parties have enslaved us. In order to lift its populations out of immiseration, Africa requires trans African railway systems, and a fresh water "Transaqua' Congo/Lake Chad water project. (Please educate yourself on that as well.)
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2011
The colonialist "great game" that Jonathan Swift lampooned in the Lilliputian chapter of Gulliver's travels of gang/counter gang manipulation of tribal conflicts is the social control mechanism of choice of the multinational resource cartels(the new face of colonialism, but the same oligarchic families that were in control before.)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.