According to research, enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 90 minutes to meet the entire planet’s energy needs for a year (IEA, 2011).
Yet, many of the school going children in northern Kenya rely on inadequate sources of light for studying after school hours. Kerosene lamps or reading over the fire expose children to health hazards such as respiratory diseases and eyesight challenges.
And although the country has experienced a notable expansion in health facilities, services such as night delivery continue to be strained in some parts of the country without access to electricity.
The Solar Lantern Project hopes to address some of these challenges.
In Samburu and Isiolo counties, over 2,000 portable and rechargeable solar lanterns were distributed to schools and health facilities in regions without electricity. The lamps, a donation from Panasonic Corporation, provide a clean and safe light source.
“ There is a huge difference in the school performance of these children ever since they received the lanterns. Homework is now done and delivered on time.” — Abdi Ali, deputy head teacher Bulampya School
The project not only provides reading light for the children but also encourages students, especially girls, to attend school as they are required to report to school each day to recharge their lanterns. To ensure sustainability of the project, UNDP has also trained local artisans on proper use and handling of the lanterns.
“Solar lanterns are especially important for children from pastoralist communities. In Samburu, we have something unique called ‘mobile schools’. While we cannot carry electricity with us every time we relocate, the solar lanterns are portable.” — Halkano Bonaya from the county office of Education in Samburu County
Equal access to education for all children in Kenya is a driver for development in the poorest parts of the country. The initiative helps children level out their grades with the rest of the country’s, and is also beneficial for their family.
“Although the lamp was given to me, it helps my whole family. Before, my five siblings and I would gather around a kerosene lamp or a candle to do our homework, we barely could see.” — Amina Abdi, student at Bulampya School
Her mother, Halima, agrees: “Before [Amina] started bringing the solar lantern home, I had to spend 20 shillings on kerosene every day. Now, I save around 1,000 shillings a month.”
Replacing kerosene lamps with 1 million Panasonic solar lanterns is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 30,000 tonnes between 2014 and 2018. This also aligns with Sustainable Development Goal number 7 — Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Another initiative to improve the quality of education in marginalized communities has seen more girls transition from primary to secondary school. The UNDP-Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme provided the funds to purchase and install solar units and a wind turbine at a rescue centre for orphaned girls and survivors of Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage. The Olosho-oibor safe haven in Kajiado County also doubles as a boarding facility for girls.
“Overall school grades have improved due to the extra study hours that the pupils are now able to put in early morning and late in the evening because they have electricity.” — Joel Sikia, Senior Teacher, Oloshoibor Primary School
Text: UNDP in Kenya / Photos: Inger Haugsgjerd, James Ochweri, Joyous Begisen / UNDP in Kenya.