One of my aims of the trip was to really get involved with some of the SolarAid projects – the charity that we are supporting and hoping to raise £20,000 for (Please donate all that you can here at www.justgiving.com/overlandinthesun ). I have been involved with the charity for some time, telling many people about their work – but not really experienced it on the ground. Kenya was the first country on our route where SolarAid operate and we were all keen to get involved and see where we could help. After a little taster in Nairobi with the Sunny Money micro solar project we headed off to rural Kenya – where Solar really is often the only form of electricity.
Muhuru bay is almost in Tanzania on lake Victoria, as one of the locals put it “the Kenyan government have forgotten about us as we are too far away”. From tarmac it is about a 2 hour drive down a pot holed road and in total about 11 hours drive away from Nairobi.
We met Hudson (from SolarAid) and the Smart Solar team who had come up in the Solar Roller – the two Solar powered Toyota’s have joined up again!
The aim of the week was to install Solar Panels on 3 schools, repair a system on a medical clinic which had been abandoned by another NGO and support the local Sunny Money entrepreneurs in the quest to sell micro solar products.
George and the Smart Solar team are SolarAid technical contractors in Kenya who do the installations all the schools consisted of 3 x 120w Solar panels, 16 lights (two in 6 classrooms and 2 security lights), 2x 200 amp batteries, a charge controller (it takes care of the batteries not to let them be discharged or overcharged), an inverter (to convert from DC to AC) a fuse box and 3 plugs. This system is designed to provide plenty of lighting and enough power for the schools to help the local community (and raise some extra funds to look after the system).
Much of the technical installation was done on one day (yes 3 schools and a clinic completed in one day with only 6 workers!) but SolarAid does not just install a system then walk away. Firstly the community must pay 10% of the cost of the system, this not only makes your donations go further (ever 10th school is paid for locally) but it also creates local ownership of the system. If a small item like a light switch is broken if the community has paid no money towards the system – often it will stay broken as nobody really looses anything. But if the community has paid even a small amount for the system the light switch will get repaired. So much of our time was spend talking through contracts a payment plans (even 10% is a struggle for rural schools in this area so they are given a full year to pay). No school in any of SolarAid projects has failed to pay there given amount.
Another part of the SolarAid contract is that schools must set up a fund to look after the system if a light bulb (OK “lamp” to Part L colleagues (don’t ask!)) blows or even an inverter. The idea is that if the school can generate income – perhaps through mobile phone charging or cutting hair or maybe holding meetings in the evening, not only does it benefit the local community (often these tasks would be done a couple of hours walk away at a higher cost) it can save money for when something breaks.
The next important part of the day was the technical training, while I was generally impressed by headmasters knowledge of inverters and charge controllers (I bet many in the UK would not have a clue what these parts are) it is important for the local community to really understand how the system works and what it can do – and more importantly what it can’t. Far too often Solar projects fail because people try and stretch them too far – perhaps having some extension cables to a neighbouring home – which then has the potential to blow important and expensive parts. With the community ownership and the knowledge that if parts are broken due to lack of care, the local community will have to pay – this helps people look after the system.
At the end there is also the all important photo opportunities!
Kumoi Primary School
Naughty School children….
In the evenings it was time to help the local Sunny Money entrepreneurs to sell some domestic products.
The Sunny Money Solar Roller isn’t just a brightly painted Matatu – but like our landcruiser it has Solar Panels on the roof. What do the Solar panels power? A projector obviously! This means that in the rural areas where there is little access to TV’s and it is very difficult to watch movies setting up a impromptu outside cinema creates quite a crowd!
Big crowds means the entrepreneurs can show off the Sunny money products and get some sales in!
and all watch a movie
Movie by moonlight powered by sunlight….
Donate @ www.justgiving.com/overlandinthesun