Shedding light on energy poverty: One Ugandan woman’s perspective

Without electricity, some women resort to indoor cooking fires. Credit: Irene Namaganda

Without electricity, some women resort to indoor cooking fires. Credit: Irene Namaganda

Irene Namaganda is a BeadforLife field coordinator in Uganda. Bead for Life invests in women and help them become successful entrepreneurs in their communities. Irene knows how harmful a lack of electricity can be to the health of girls and women, but she also sees first-hand the positive effects that access to electricity can have on women in rural Africa.

I’ve experienced energy poverty firsthand. When I was 6 years old, I was taken to live with my aunt in a village 50 miles from home. With no electricity, we used an oil lamp to light our way to bed, and we snuffed it out immediately to save oil. We always welcomed the full moon—not for its beauty, but for the light it provided.

But not having access to electricity can have much more dire consequences. Every day, families without electricity are forced to cook over indoor open fires. Cooking in small, unventilated kitchens regularly exposes them to toxins, fumes and smoke. Medical care is also affected. It’s not unusual in rural health centers to find a midwife holding a flashlight in her mouth while delivering a baby in the middle of the night. Some centers receive donations of life-saving equipment, but they can’t use it without electricity. Lack of refrigeration means important, disease-preventing vaccinations go bad before they are given.

The good news is I’ve also seen firsthand how dramatically electricity can improve the lives of women and children. At my organization, BeadforLife, the majority of our participants did not have access to electricity in their homes before they enrolled in our entrepreneurial training programs. After graduating from BeadforLife, women work their way out of poverty by starting small businesses that often rely on electricity. They open hair salons, shops, restaurants, and more. They sell cold, refrigerated drinks, which bring in good profit—especially during the hot season. Their income increases significantly, and they are able to provide better food, housing, healthcare, and schooling for their children.

Electricity does more than light homes. It opens doors. Add your voice and bring electricity to 50 million people for the first time!

Edith Nabasumba in the beauty salon she runs—with the help of electricity. Credit: Irene Namaganda

Edith Nabasumba in the beauty salon she runs—with the help of electricity. Credit: Irene Namaganda

BeadforLife creates sustainable opportunities for women in Uganda to lift themselves out of poverty by helping them become independent entrepreneurs, and by connecting them with women around the world. While they are in our program, Ugandan women work hard to earn and save income by rolling beautiful bead jewelry out of recycled paper or harvesting shea nuts to make shea butter. Women worldwide then sell these products while raising awareness about extreme poverty. Most importantly, women in our program launch independent, self-sustaining businesses, so by the time they graduate, they are able to provide for their families for years to come. This model allows us to serve many more women over time.