Cathy Agallo, an active ONE member, recounts her experience growing up in a rural village in Kenya. Currently, she lives in Peoria, Ill., where she works at a nonprofit organization.
I am from Nairobi, Kenya, and while I was born in a small village, I have lived in the city practically all my life. When it was time for me to go to high school, I chose to attend a boarding school in a rural area because I wanted a better education.
In Nairobi, every house had electricity, although it wasn’t very affordable. But when I moved to a more rural area, I could only access energy until 6 p.m. In high school, I would rush to do everything during the day so I wouldn’t have to use a wood stove or lanterns to do my homework. When I studied after dark, it quickly became hard to concentrate and my eyesight would often weaken as I worked. Eventually, I would just have to go to sleep because the headache got so bad.
It wasn’t a conducive environment for students, but my passion for getting an education made me go the extra mile. During exams, I would even study under the sheets of my bed with a battery-powered lamp after everyone had gone to sleep.
However, my grades weren’t the only thing at risk when the power shut off each night. If someone at my school got sick at night, emergencies had to wait until the next day because medical facilities didn’t have power either. Instead of calling 911, we used home remedies to keep the sick person alive until we could find help in the morning.
But it wasn’t just the lack of electricity at hospitals and clinics that was the problem. No one wanted to drive or leave the village at night because anyone out after dark was more likely to get robbed. By 6 p.m. everything was closed down and everyone has gone home to cook dinner and to stay inside until the morning.
Yet even when you’re inside, you’re still not safe. People who live in the rural areas aren’t educated about the dangers of using charcoal inside the home and are taking a huge risk every time they make a meal or try to heat their house.
One of my friends thought she could keep warm by sleeping near her charcoal stove during cold weather. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning overnight.
The fact that businesses close so early because there is no electricity hampers the economy. A country can only develop based on the amount of electricity provided, which means that Kenya is a standstill. However, urban Africa is developing.
People in cities with energy access don’t have to rush home everyday. They can work night shifts, and their economy operates 24/7. We need to bring this same energy infrastructure and related opportunities to rural Africa.
We have the opportunity to bring electricity to 50 million Africans for the first time through the Electrify Africa Act of 2013. It’s our time to speak up and be a driving force for change.
Without electricity in both rural and urban areas, Kenya cannot develop economically or provide the necessary educational and health services to help raise Africa out of extreme poverty.