Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Earth at night

Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.

Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.

Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.

Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.

Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes' home

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes’ home

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.

Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.

Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer

Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.

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Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Solar Sister and Grameen Foundation AppLab in Kampala, Uganda.


Comments

Hi, Laura! I have been translating and editing for Kiva since 2007. I love your blog and feel motivated to write you because in January 1963 I also went to study in Germany. That was quite an unusual thing to do back then. It makes me amazed to think that my parents allowed me to (we mostly didn't just do what we wanted back then) so soon after WW II. After 5 years in Germany, I married a Malagasy student at the university (Marburg) and in 1968 we went to Madagascar. It was my home for 10 years and, long story short, it became my youngest daughter's Peace Corps assignment in 2006. She loved it as much as I did and learned to speak fluent Malagasy (which I did not). She then majored in Forestry and now helps Madagascar--and the rest of Africa--through WWF. So I found a whole lot to relate to in your wonderful blog. Good for you for doing good for others!! Teresa

Hi Teresa, thanks so much for your comment. Sounds like we have a lot in common! That's great that you were able to embark on such a unique journey even back when it wasn't as common to leave home and explore the world. Glad that you enjoyed my post - the Kiva Fellowship has been an amazing experience so far! All the best to you and your family; it sounds like your daughter is doing great things in Madagascar.

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