TO VIVIANE UWINEZA, 53, and other residents of Buramira cell, Kimonyi Sector in Musanze District, getting electricity looked a distant dream.
The area they were living in was seen as extremely poor and local leaders projected it would be hard for the residents to get connected to the national grid.
“We used to stay in darkness at night and used kerosene lamps to light our houses. Other people could not afford buying paraffin due to poverty,” Uwineza says.
In 2010, a partnership between local leaders and a local non-governmental organisation, Safer Rwanda, raised money and brought free solar energy in the area.
Since there was need to train people in solar energy installation and maintainance, Uwineza and three other women were chosen to go to Bugesera for a three-month training programme.
“When I was selected, I thought I would fail because I lacked skills in electricity and any other scientific discipline. However, when I reached there, I realised that my colleagues faced a similar dilemma,” she says.
“We did more practicals than theory which made the training easy,” Uwineza adds.
After the training, the mother of five together with her colleagues were certified as solar engineers.
Since then, they have made solar energy installations for more than 90 houses in the area.
Uwineza and her colleagues can now operate solar energy—from control chargers, to batteries.
“Apart from installations, we also do repair amd maintenence. We have all the necessary equipment to use,” she says.
“The area residents are not surprised to see me in uniform climbing up a ladder to do installations,” she adds.
Esperance Uzamukunda, 47, is another member of the rural women engineers. She says that apart from helping rural residents get solar energy, the training helped them transform their lives.
“Each household pays Rwf500 monthly for the solar energy. We never force them to pay but when they choose to pay, it is considered an appreciation for what we do,” Uzamukunda says.
“Safer Rwanda has also given us stoves which we sell and and get dividends,” she adds.
Each family has two solar lamps with a mobile one used to light outside.
Marie Nyirandabahima, a beneficiary of the project, says she is grateful to the group.
“I used to stay in darkness. My children couldn’t study well because there was no light. Now everything is sorted,” says Nyirandabahima.
Christine Muhongerwa, the executive secretary of Safer Rwanda, said solar energy has not only benefitted the poor but has also helped preserve the environment.