Empowering Communities with Renewable Energy
Twenty-one kilometres from Ngong town along the Kedong valley in Kajiado County, you will find the Maasai Olosho-oibor village. Most of the essential services needed by the Olosho–oibor community are available only in Ngong town. Grid power is seven kilometres away, but frequent vandalism of transformers has resulted in non-availability of power. All the facilities in the community including the local primary school, the dispensary, church and market are powered by renewable energy.
For close to a decade now, a community based organisation (CBO), Ewang’an, (which means light in the Maasai dialect) has been providing the Olosho-oibor community with energy generated from renewable sources; wind and solar. To boost energy for the community, a recent upgrade of the project by UNDP managed Global Environment Facility ( Small Grants Programme (GEF – SGP) has seen the production increased from 15 kilowatts of energy to almost 25 Kilowatts of renewable and constant electricity supply.
“Today, we see how an idea can transform an entire community. When we have good ideas, let us share them . Partners will always come on board. The UNDP GEF - SGP was happy to support the community upscale that the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) had started because we could see that the community had owned and managed the project well. And today we can all see the results,” remarked Nancy Chege, during a project handover ceremony at Olosho – oibor.
UNDP’s GEF Small Grants Program facilitated the purchase and installation of solar units that increased the initial output from solar by 4 kilowatts. A wind turbine was also purchased and installed. This increased the output from 3 kilowatts to 9 kilowatts. A rescue centre for orphaned girls and girls escaping from FGM and early marriage is also powered by energy from the energy centre. The safe haven also doubles as a boarding facility for Olosho – oibor school upper primary girl students.
A senior teacher at Olosho – oibor primary school Mr. Joel Sikia notes that overall school grades have improved due to the extra study hours they are now able to put in early morning and late in the evening using light from the project. Mr. Sikia adds that more pupils are joining high school and getting places in better schools.
Lornah Njeri, a class 7 pupil at the school who also lives in the girls’ rescue center confirms this, “I want to be a surgeon because I want to know how many brain cells there are in one’s head, and so I have to get very good grades. The project has enabled me to do this as in addition to the normal school work, I am able to study a bit more anytime I want to by simply switching on the light; something we never had when I was starting school.”
Lorna is just one of the many pupils with big dreams in Olosho- Oibor village. UNDP Programme Analyst Zainab Khalif encouraged the pupils, and especially the girls to embrace education as one of the tools that would transform their lives and so as to be role models for their sisters and neighbours
Apart from using the power for lighting, the school has introduced what they call ‘visual learning lessons’ to the curriculum. “What you hear, you may forget, but when you see, you never forget,” explains the school head teacher and chairman of the CBO Mr. Paul Sakuda, adding that using video has created a lot of interest in learning.
The video lessons are done using a television that is powered by energy from the project. The school is also hoping to have a fully operational computer lab in the coming months. “We already have a room and are in the final talks with a nongovernmental organization that has expressed interest in providing our school with computers to promote ICT skills. If this goes through, power will not be a problem.” Remarks Mr Sakuda
Other facilities that have benefited from power from the center include 7 staff houses, a local trading center, a few kiosks and a dispensary.
“Before this project, we would only operate during the day. If we had an emergency at night, we would rely on candle light and kerosene lamps. But the energy centre has enabled us to be a 24-hour service delivery facility. In addition to using the light at night, we use the energy to keep our drugs at optimum temperatures, and have also changed from the old log book system to storing our data in computers that operate using the solar energy,” reported the nurse in charge at the facility, Jackline Mwendo. Olosho - oibor dispensary serves about 400 to 700 patients a month.
What makes Olosho – oibor’s story stand out is the discipline in which the community has continued to maintain the energy centre. “We have initiated this project in many communities, but Ewang’an CBO’s leadership stands out because the community owned the project making it one of our greatest success stories,” remarked UNIDO director, Mr. Emmanuel Kalenzi.
Another factor that has contributed to the success of the project is the support and goodwill by elected leaders, notably the area member of parliament Hon. Moses ole Sakuda.
The Ewang’an energy center was established in 2008 with technical and financial assistance from UNIDO. The total energy installed at the Center then was 15KW; 2kW from solar, 3 kW from wind, and 10Kw from a diesel generator. However, as the years went by and the population grew, the demand for energy far outstripped supply. And so with technical support from UNIDO, Ewang’an submitted a proposal to the Global Environment Facility(GEF) Small Grants Program (SGP), requesting for funds to up-scale the Center and increase energy supply to meet the growing demands. The proposal was approved for funding by the National Steering committee in mid-2013.
The GEF SGP award of USD 50,000 was to fund the increase of solar power and wind power, thus increasing the total power output from 15kW to 25kW; replace the old battery bank and double power storage; install power metering equipment at all the consumption points for effective billing; provide power to the girls’ rescue centre and provide power to business services including salon, carpentry, and soap making as a means to support self-employment and improve livelihoods.
Due to the success of the project, other partners have come on board to provide financial support and equipment, such as Akon Lighting Africa run by American singer and businessman Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam better known as Akon.
Albeit challenges, most of these activities have been implemented. And now, 21 kilometres away, someone looking over Kedong Valley would mistake Olosho – oibor village for a small city. As the head teacher at the primary school jokingly puts it; “our small city in the bush.” Interestingly, Ewang’an means light in the Maasai language. Light that has been made possible by UNDP GEF-SGP.