By Cindy Dyer, Board Member at Kenya Connect
Have you ever thought about the power of the sun and how its energy potential could impact literacy and education? I had never really connected the sun to reading prior to my trip to Kenya this summer, probably because I live in a part of the world that has adequate access to electricity.
What I came to learn on my trip is that the power and potential of the sun can be harnessed to help develop an entire generation of children in rural Kenya into thinkers and leaders who will positively impact their country and the world. This epiphany came about thanks to the SunKing products of Greenlight Planet and the efforts of Kenya Connect.
During a brief meeting at the Nairobi office of Greenlight Planet, I learned about their solar lights, which seemed to have been designed almost perfectly for the needs of the families and children of rural Kenya. The products were durable, lightweight, simple to use, long-lasting, and inexpensive. Many of the children in rural Kenya don’t have electricity at home. If they had access to these lights, they might have a better chance at success.
Especially excited by that prospect was my colleague, Kenya Connect Field Director James Musyoka. During his childhood in Kenya, James was one of ten kids. His family couldn’t afford for him to board at school, so each day, he would run five kilometers to and from school.
Daily chores and working on the family farm left James with precious little daylight hours to study:
“At night, I would use a kerosene lump to study for between two to three hours before retiring to bed,” he said. “Sometimes there was no kerosene to light the home and I would have to go to bed without reading or doing my homework. At such times, I would wake up much earlier the next day and report to school much earlier so I would have a chance to finish my work. I was so determined to make good grades and my hope was to make it to university.”
He made it—and of the 120 students who sat for the university exam at his school, he was among the eight who qualified, and the only one not in boarding school. After university, James felt strongly about returning to a rural community and working to help improve the state of education there. One of his goals was to increase the number of rural students that went on to attend secondary schools and universities.
So as we left Greenlight Planet that day, he thought about how access to these lights would help the children with their studies. When compared to the kerosene lamps that James had used as a rural student, the lights provided a healthier, more reliable, and higher quality source of light, in addition to being less expensive.
That’s why Kenya Connect is starting a new initiative that focuses on the affordable distribution of solar lights to the families we work with in the rural areas of Kenya. The program James has started in rural areas is a monthly payment program. Each family that wants a light, pays the equivalent of $1 (USD) per month for eight months. They own the light after eight months. After four months of this program, not one family has missed a payment. They are finding it cheaper and more effective than the kerosene they had come to rely on.
“This solar light produces very clear light, unlike the kerosene lamp,” said Lilian, a student in the area. “Therefore I enjoy reading at night more than before. I always complete my homework because I can now study in the evening and also early in the morning.”
Kenya Connect has distributed over 880 SunKing Pico lights to families in the rural area of Wamunyu, Kenya. With the money that the families pay monthly, we purchase more lights to distribute to other schools and families in rural areas.
Our goal, quite simply, is to provide greater access to light for families so their children can read and study at night. It’s amazing that such a simple and affordable product has the potential to have a dramatic impact on education for so many.
Cindy Dyer has been an active member of the board of Kenya Connect for more than two years. She has traveled to Kenya three times to work with the project site. Cindy is also a mediator with the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center of Howard Community College (MCRC). She has spent more than 15 years working directly with youth in many aspects.