Masai Women Are Leading a Solar Revolution With Help From Their Donkeys

Groups of women in Kenya are hauling solar devices on donkeys from village to village, providing light and power to homes along the way.
Photo Courtesy: Youtube
A donkey totes a solar panel.

Just two years ago, the villagers of Magadi, Kenya, had to light fires at night or burn expensive kerosene so their children could read and do their schoolwork—that is, when they weren't tasked with guarding the village livestock from leopards and hyenas making their stealthy attacks in the dark. Energy poverty is a major problem in this region; Magadi is so far off the country’s power grid that people have to walk almost 10 miles to charge their phones at a station that’s open only one day a week. 

But these days, groups of Masai women are leading a renewable energy revolution. Hauling solar devices on donkeys from village to village, they’re transforming the lives of locals with light and power, thanks to a program launched by renewable energy developer Green Energy Africa. The women are provided with energy-efficient lights, solar panels, and rechargeable batteries at a discount, which they in turn sell for a profit. They are also trained to help install the panels and lights at individual homes. To date, 200 women are participating across five village groups; together, they’ve installed solar-powered units in more than 2,000 homes. 

Indeed, enlisting the sun is the perfect solution for this arid, sun-soaked African country.

“Kenya is blessed to be on the equator,” Edwin Kinyatti, CEO of Green Energy Africa, told CCTV Africa. “Even on rainy days, you get some sunshine.”

The program’s success depends on convincing locals that the power they get from solar devices is enough, Kinyatti says, making it crucial that the women are well versed and educated when it comes to explaining to fellow community members how solar power works. One thing that’s easy to get across: Solar energy is cheaper than buying kerosene and much easier than collecting wood from the forest.

“Others come to my house to charge their phones,” said Lorna Salau, one of the women selling solar panels. “Before, I used to go to the woods to look for firewood but not anymore. Also, the children use electricity to read during the night.”

So, Why Should You Care? Not only does the program help energy-deprived communities, but it also protects the environment and improves health. Solar power preserves the dwindling number of trees in the region and protects people from smoke inhalation, which leads to 1.6 million deaths worldwide every year, according to a 2014 World Health Organization report. Moreover, the program provides Masai women, who traditionally have few rights in their culture, a path to economic freedom. 

“We’ve really benefited from [the solar program],” Jackline Naiputa, head of one of the women’s groups, told the news station. “I can’t even say all the ways we’ve benefited. We are happier. As women, we’ve experienced profits, and our standard of living has improved. The animals that were eating our livestock have stopped. Once we light up our homesteads, the animals are scared away.”

David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

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