By Eric Elton, Director of Outreach at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Minnesota
I recently returned from my fifth trip to Illambo, Tanzania—a very remote village in central Tanzania. To get to the village, you have to go over a very steep, rough mountain. As we traveled through the tight switchbacks of this mountain, a voice came from the back of the vehicle. Lusungu Msigwa, a pastor from this part of Tanzania: “Never in my lifetime did I ever think I would see power lines get this far out into the rural parts of Tanzania.”
Msigwa is the Director of Bega Kwa Bega in Iringa, Tanzania and has been a pastor here for nearly seven years. His love for this community is evident and it was great to have him with us.
Since my first visit to Illambo nine years ago, I have seen five water wells installed in the village, two church buildings built in the area, and 14 kids able to go to a boarding school nearby. But this time, Msigwa and I had the opportunity to see a few solar panels that had just been installed in the community.
The village of Illambo is incredibly remote. It can take more than 12 hours by foot just to visit the dentist. It may take several hours to get to the market, which makes any commerce quite difficult. Foot travel is usually the only way to get to your destination. If your community has a road, it is often rough and not well-maintained – they are often washed out from the rainy season, which makes it very difficult for vehicles to reach the villages.
As we continued the conversation with Msigwa, we asked him how access to electricity can benefit communities. He spoke for a while about the impact of electricity in different areas of life. Clinics would be able to store certain medicines that require special care that electricity would provide. There are medical devices that need electricity to function that are currently not available. Currently, babies born in the middle of the night are delivered near a kerosene lamp with a very distinct odor. Lights would provide cleaner air and a brighter atmosphere for the office.
Electricity would also improve education for students. Many classrooms are pretty dark, which makes it difficult for learning. I have two girls of my own and I know they wouldn’t have been able to see their homework with the little light. Lights would make it easier for the students to see their books and papers. They would be able to use educational tools that require power. Education is believed to be one of the key resources for breaking the cycles of poverty, so not only would students have access to new learning tools, but new opportunities in the future could be opened to them.
Commerce would be impacted by the introduction of electricity, too. Machines that process agriculture products could be introduced. Once these products are processed, they can be brought to market for sale. Proceeds could be brought back to the village to boost the economy. Electricity would really impact all aspects of life.
The solar panels that had just been installed generate enough power for about 12 LED lights to last for evening activities, with electricity to spare—assuming there is full sunlight during the day for charging. The first night the panels were installed, the clinic was able to use the new electricity for a birth in the middle of the night!
The reality of extensive access to electricity in Illambo is quite slim. The steep, rough mountain we had to travel across to reach Illambo separates the village from the end of the power line. But with the glimpse of light the community has seen, Msigwa wonders how his community could change if electricity made it up the mountain.