Solar Project Lights Up Lives in Kibera Slum

At 37 years old, Jane Mueni, has been through difficult times in life. Her husband deserted their home in Kibera slum, leaving her to take care of their two children despite
having no meaningful source of income. Although she had a kiosk outside her one-room house where she sold vegetables, her proceeds from the business could barely meet the family’s basic needs. Other than taking care of her two children, Mueni is also taking care of her deceased sister’s daughter.

Lady luck, however, struck one day when Mueni was introduced by a friend to Riziki Kenya, a community based organization working in the slums to transform lives through provision of an enabling environment for child development and empowering the community for self-reliance. Today, the three children under her care are being sponsored by Riziki through an education programme targeting children from needy families in the slum. But what has brought an evident change in Mueni’s life is the portable solar lamp project that Riziki Kenya is implementing in the slum in partnership with the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF). 

The project christened Mwangaza Poa (Bright Light) targets 500 homes with school going children attending day school in Kibera’s Laini Saba area. Through the project, families in the slums are provided with clean, safe, affordable and bright light through a nano finance funding scheme. “The Mwangaza Poa Project has helped me save money that I ordinarily would use on paraffin. The solar lighting has also made reading much easier for my children as they can now enjoy longer hours of study.” She says. 

Residents of Kibera, like those in other slums, live in small overcrowded rooms and mainly with no access to electricity. They rely on kerosene tin lamps popularly known as ‘koroboi’ or candles for lighting which creates a number of challenges particularly for households with school going children. For Mueni, the koroboi that she used for lighting was a curse to the family as the poor light quality emitted by the tin lamp hindered the ability of her children to do their homework as well as carry out household activities.

The cost of kerosene was also prohibitively high while the noxious fumes produced by kerosene lamps was a health hazard to the entire family. “I suffered recurrent chest pains due to the heavy black smoke from the cooking stove and tin lamp. With the limited resources I had at the time, raising money for medication became a sticking problem for my family. ” She says. But the hard times for Mueni are over as she is one of the community members who have benefited from the Mwangaza Poa project.

Riziki Kenya business development services manager, Mr Martin Nkaku, says beneficiaries of the project were mobilized into groups where they save money to enable them purchase portable solar lamps on discounted prices. “To inculcate the spirit of savings among the beneficiaries, once they get the portable solar lamps we ask them to turn
the kerosene tin lamps into a home bank where they save the money they used to spend on kerosene. This makes it possible for them to make weekly repayments for the new lamps without feeling the burden,” says Mr Nkaku. 

The dust and shock resistant portable lamps have photovoltaic solar panels which harvest a certain spectrum of sunrays and can charge even during rainy and cloudy weather. Apart from lighting, they solar panels are also used for charging mobile phones. Within the first year of the project, more than 750 households had acquired the lamps. More than 1650 families are currently using the solar lamps for their lighting and electricity needs.

For Mueni who has already bought two lamps through the credit scheme for her home use as well as her vegetables kiosk; the solar lamps are also a source of income as she uses them to charge mobile phones for her neighbours at a nominal fee.“I used to spend KES 30 every day on kerosene before I got my first lamp. Today I no longer buy kerosene and I am able to feed my family well and meet other financial responsibilities since I get additional income by charging mobile phones.” Says Mueni.

The project, which has been replicated in other slums and towns across the country had its share of challenges at the beginning. Given the poor living conditions of the target group, it was not easy to sell the idea as many wanted the lamps to be given lamps for free and credit management was an issue. The problem was however overcome through the group model where the group members acted as guarantors for each other.

“The results have surpassed our expectations. It is satisfying to see the social gains that have accrued from something very small. The impact cannot be equated to the KES 3000 that the lamp cost. ” Asserts Martin. With the success that has been realised in the portable solar lamps project, Riziki Kenya has also introduced a new product called Mpishi Bora (A good cook). Mpishi Bora is a solar cooking stove that uses sun-rays to cook food and is meant to complement the lighting project.

This, the organization believes, will help households reduce their expenditure on firewood and charcoal by upto 75 per cent.

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