With efforts from the Empowered Community Network, 262 solar batteries were distributed with support from the Ed Nef Foundation to 150 households in Keur Simbara, Kobongoye and Soudiane. These three Senegalese communities have completed the Community Empowerment Program and have taken steps to realizing their collective visions that they developed during the program—sending their girls to formal school, managing income-generating projects, building health centers, and so much more. Solar power has been an important tool for communities to make continued progress toward their goals.
Coura Traoré, Soudiane
17-year-old Coura was busy during exam season of 10th grade. “Since getting solar lights in my village, I can now study from 9pm to midnight. Before getting the solar batteries, my parents were spending 4500 FCFA [~$9] per month to buy candles. I have better grades now because even when studying by candlelight, I couldn’t study later than 9pm. The solar power also allows me to charge my phone and have access to a dictionary on the phone, as well as talk to my sisters, who live 200 kilometers away, if I need school supplies.”
Coura would like to be a police officer after graduating high school.
Awa Diop, Keur Simbara
Health center attendant Awa knows firsthand the positive impact solar lights have made in her community. “Before, the health workers had difficulty caring for patients and used candles and oil lamps. Now, the arrival of the solar batteries has motivated more of the health staff to work at night and has improved conditions for patients, especially women in labor. Women can breastfeed more easily when their babies wake up at night and they feel safer staying with their babies overnight.”
Marème Bamba, Soudiane
Marème is trained solar engineer and a long-time Tostan partner. She and the community of Soudiane received 104 new solar batteries. “Since the arrival of these solar batteries, students have the opportunity to study at night and families can prepare nighttime events, such as funerals, marriages, baptisms, and religious chants. We can also have light for nighttime prayers at the mosque and for midnight mass at the neighboring village’s church.”
Soudiane community members have also seen an end to fires from unattended candles and can do housework and sell food in the evening. The solar batteries will allow Marème to operate her solar workshop, which was previously out of order, and repair the solar circuits on lanterns and fixed lights as needed.
Arona Fall, Kobongoye
Arona is the village chief of Kobongoye. “I use the solar power to charge my cell phone and look after my grandsons in the evening. Everyone who received solar batteries is happy and they intend pay 1000 FCFA [~$2] per family at the end of each month so we will be able to buy new batteries in the future and ensure the sustainability of our solar project.”
Now, each of the three communities has opened a bank account, which contain savings to replace the batteries in case of disrepair.
Fatou Aïdara, Kobongoye
Fatou had dropped out of school because she has vision problems and was unable to study by candlelight. She has since returned to school. “I have the opportunity to study my lessons and do my homework from 7 to 11pm because of the solar lighting in my mother's room.”
Fatou would like to be a teacher after her studies.
Doussou Konaté of Keur Simbara uses a solar lantern to lead the way to neighboring Keur Amadou Diakhou. With lamps, people are now able to avoid scorpions and snakes while walking at night. They can also light their courtyards and chat with family members into the night. Solar power has become an unlikely means for improving relations within and between communities.
Baye Demba Diawara, Keur Simbara
Baye Demba is the imam and village chief of Keur Simbara. “The arrival of the new batteries ensured the safety of our livestock. As an imam, I wake up at three in the morning to pray and read the Qur'an [which I now use the solar lights to do]. I also charge my cell phone, which allows me to communicate with my nephew in Washington DC, the government authorities in my zone, and community partners.”
Solar energy is not only renewable and low-cost, it is also highly accessible under the West African sun. The above examples are just a sampling of the creativity and resourcefulness used by Tostan partner communities to meet their diverse needs and dreams. In more ways than one, with each day’s rising sun, hope is renewed and progress continues.
Photos and interviews by Dame Gueye, Empowered Communities Network Coordinator