Somewhere in the Bumpe Chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s Southern Province, about a hundred primary schoolchildren no longer have excuses for not finishing their homework. Earlier this year, a team from the Kposowa Foundation (now known as Sierra Leone Rising) drove into the compounds of three different schools, their vehicles loaded with cartons containing brand new Sun King Picos.
The Sun King Pico is a cute little solar lamp that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pixar movie, but don’t be fooled by the looks. Encased in a tough plastic shell and with an in-built solar panel and battery, it is water-proof, drop-proof, and capable of providing 30 hours of light from a day’s charge. The Pico is the smallest of several solar lamps designed by Greenlight Planet, an organisation that makes and markets domestic solar products for off-grid communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
It all started back in 2006 when the organisation’s founder, Patrick Walsh, travelled to India as a student with the NGO; Engineers Without Borders. Patrick observed that nearly all households in rural India used kerosene lamps for their lighting needs. Besides being highly inefficient, kerosene lamps are a huge health hazard. The fumes they emit are a major cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in developing countries. A night by the light of a typical open-flamed kerosene lamp exposes a family to the equivalent of two packets worth of cigarette smoke for the duration, not to mention the very real risk of fire. The need for a cleaner, safer yet affordable lighting solution led Patrick to design his first solar lamp. Ten years and over 7 million lamps later, Greenlight Planet is one of the leading names in the off-grid solar industry, with operations in 61 countries to date. The company’s Sun King lamps and home lighting systems have impacted the lives of an estimated 23 million lives worldwide.
Better health following the replacement of kerosene lamps is only one of the benefits of products such as Greenlight Planet’s. Better education and improved lives for women and children also follow, which takes us back to Sierra Leone.
Hindo Kposowa of Sierra Leone Rising wanted to do something about the poor performance of the pupils in the schools of the Bumpe Chiefdom, where his organisation started in the same year that Patrick Walsh took his first trip to India. Lack of electricity and high poverty levels formed a vicious cycle that saw many children forced to join their parents in their small, informal farms after school, leaving them with practically no time for study or homework. By the time most Bumpe children settle down for the evening, it is too dark for books. And that’s not all.
“During exams, students go out unwillingly to study in business centres powered with a generator. Girls in such situations are often sexually abused – leading to teenage pregnancy and trauma,” Kposowa told Youth Voices, a social network and internet-based media resource for students.
“One solar lantern will help a girl to study at home. This will prevent sexual abuses amongst girls going out at night in search of generator power supply to study or sexually trade their body to buy candles or non-rechargeable batteries.”
Kposowa and Sierra Leone Rising plan to donate more Sun King Picos to more primary schools.
“It is a journey we have just started.”
Off-grid solar technology promises to raise living standards and improve the life experience of tens of millions of people around the world. Greenlight Planet’s CEO imagines beyond the replacement of kerosene lamps to the replacement of the grid itself in developing countries, in a scenario similar to that in which mobile phones ‘leap-frogged’ landlines in Africa. This can only be a good thing – no child should fail in school or in life for lack of light.