United Nations — “My mother used to just stay at home, now she has come back and is an engineer and a leader. She is on the Village Energy Committee,” said a 10-year-old girl from the village of Chekeleni, in Tanzania’s southeastern Mtwara district.
“When I grow up I will also be a leader. Maybe I will be the president,” she said.
Just over a year ago, homes in the village of Chekeleni were dark after sunset. Today they are filled with light from solar lamps as women bustle around cooking and children do their homework near the glowing lamps. At least 200 households now have their own solar installations for lighting and other electrical needs.
Six women have brought this light to three remote southern Tanzanian villages in the Mtwara and Lindi districts. They are among the 25 illiterate, rural mothers, many of them also grandmothers, from four African countries who were trained at the Barefoot College in Tilonia in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, to install and maintain solar energy panels.
The programme was part of the 2011 ‘Rural Women Light up Africa’ initiative, a partnership between UN Women and the Barefoot College.
After six months the trainees graduate as Barefoot Solar Engineers and return to their villages to electrify households with solar lighting units and assume responsibility for their repair and maintenance for a period of five years.
“We hope this will be a challenge to other women who want changes and want to eradicate poverty,” said Mariam Luwongo, one of the engineers from the southern village of Nitekela.
These women not only bring electricity to their communities for the first time, but they also introduce a renewable and sustainable source of energy that can be maintained and replicated in other communities.
Despite being illiterate, of modest means and having never travelled outside Tanzania, within weeks of returning home, the six engineers have managed to set up a solar electricity system for the three small villages of Chekeleni, Nitekela and Mjimwema, in southern Tanzania, close to the Mozambique border.
Equipment is currently being procured locally to ensure that the entire community can benefit from their own solar system.