Rwanda is set to make history when four semi-literate rural women, from the village of BATIMA in the Rweru Sector of Bugesera District leave for India on the 13th of September - for a 6 months’ training that will convert them into “barefoot” solar engineers.
Since the 1998 Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), an international NGO, has been operating here in Rwanda; with the main objective of achieving sustainable development through addressing reconciliation, at community levels.
NCA implements its programmes through their capable local partners. A “practical reconciliation” village consisting of 110 houses has been constructed by the NCA approximately 4 kilometers from the Burundi border.
Those settled in this village include released prisoners and genocide survivors.
Batima is a village of some 1380 families with two schools and a dispensary.
The nearest electrified village is Nyamata 35 kilometers away. Batima is 10 kilometers away from the recently tarmacked Kicukiro - Nemba road.
At present all the houses use very small improvised kerosene lamps about half the size of condensed milk tins.
These poor families spend about 1,000 Rwandan Francs a month on lighting. The basic design of the houses is 4 rooms with a kitchen and a toilet outside.
What they need – which will tangibly improve their quality of life – is only one 18 watt solar unit with one bright light inside the house and one solar lantern that is mobile that will help in the kitchen and visiting the toilets at night to make life for the women more comfortable.
The 4 rural women – all grandmothers – will not need proficiency in any language but they will learn through sign language; they will be required to identify parts only by their colors.
They will also learn how to fabricate sophisticated charge controllers and invertors at the village level: how to install solar panels and link them to the deep cycle batteries: and how to establish a Rural Electronic workshop.
A building to be used as a workshop has already been donated by the community.
At this workshop they will be able to carry out all major and minor repairs at the village level instantly without depending on any paper qualified urban based solar engineers from the city.
It is all about capacity strengthening and confidence building.
This is the first time the barefoot approach is being tried in Rwanda but not the first time in Africa. Rural grandmothers turned solar engineers have solar electrified their own villages in Cameroon, The Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia.
Grandmothers from Benin, Mauritania and Malawi will soon be trained as solar engineers. If they can show the impossible are possible, why not rural women from Rwanda?
At a public meeting held on the 3rd July 2008, attended by all the village members in the presence of the Executive Secretary of Rweru Sector, the people endorsed the approach as well as agreed to meet soon to decide on how much they are prepared to pay towards repair and maintenance: this amount will be used to pay a monthly salary to the solar engineers.
The community members would pay for solar what they would otherwise pay for firewood, kerosene, candles and torch batteries.
There could not be a more effective way of showing how the rural poor in Rwanda are tackling the serious issues of Climate Change.
This is a partnership model (as against a “business” model) where the community makes the important decisions in a transparent and collective manner thus controlling, managing and owning the project from the very beginning.
The other partners – Norwegian Church Aid, Government of India, Safer-Rwanda and Possibly SGP/UNDP – are only facilitators.
This project is an example of a genuine bottom up approach that is replicable all over the country. The total cost of solar electrifying the whole village of Batima and benefiting nearly 6,400 men, women and children will be close to $ 100,000.
Bunker Roy has been invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos since 2002: identified as an Outstanding Global Social Entrepreneur by Schwab (2002) and Skol (2005): in January 2008 The Guardian London identified him as one of the 50 environmentalists in the world who could save the planet.
Clemence Bideri is the Programme Coordinator for Norwegian Church Aid in Rwanda.
Her contact is: Email: email@example.com
Christine Muhongerwa is the Director of SaferRwanda. SaferRwanda is a national NGO and is the implementing partner for this project.
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