Joyce and Lamec used to fear for the future of their grandchildren – and for their safety. Their village in rural Tanzania had no electricity. Power lines connected to the national grid ran high above them. But the power was not for them, the cables instead supplied electricity to nearby cities.
Joyce, Lamec and their family are part of the two thirds of Tanzania’s population who do not have access to electricity. No power means no light, and being near to the equator there are 12 hours of darkness every day from around 6pm.
So, when the sun would set on Joyce and Lamec’s home – where they live with their children, grandchildren and extended family – almost everything stopped. No light meant no cooking, no time to sew or make things to sell, and no opportunity for children to read or do their homework.
And while they slept, other dangers emerged... ‘In the past, thieves would come in the night to steal our chickens and goats,’ says Lamec. Natural hazards such as hyenas, leopards, lions and scorpions would also emerge.
So the safest place was at home in the dark.
The cost of light
The alternative to darkness is to use candles, charcoal or kerosene lamps. All of these are expensive and a huge fire risk to their dry wood-framed and thatched-roofed homes. Despite this danger, nearly 90 per cent of energy used in Tanzanian households is from firewood and charcoal – usually gathered from nearby forests.
As well as being a dangerous and costly source of fuel, burning wood means stripping or cutting down trees. Recent reports suggest that the country has already lost nearly 40 per cent of its forest cover. If this continues, Tanzania will be forest free within the next 50 to 80 years.
But, of course, alongside the 12 hours of darkness, there are also 12 hours of (usually) consistent sunshine. This provides a clean, natural energy source that could be tapped into and used right away, rather than having to wait many years for the village to be connected to the grid.
Faced with these challenges, and in light of the potential solution, Tearfund’s partner, Anglican Church Diocese of Rift Valley, came up with a simple and innovative idea. They identified villages in greatest need and started to work alongside them to help them lift themselves out of energy poverty… and out of poverty full stop.
Seeing the light
Joyce and Lamec were increasingly frustrated that the lack of lighting at night was holding back the children’s education. So when they heard about the solar scheme, they were keen to get involved.
Joyce had already been invited through her local church to join a Pamoja group (which means ‘together’ in Swahili) to help her earn an income to support her family. These groups are set up through our local partners to help people come together and find solutions to lift themselves out of poverty.
Rift Valley Diocese introduced its solar light scheme through these groups. It’s a brilliantly simple and sustainable idea. Group members save up to pay for half of the cost of a solar lighting system. When they have done this, they are given a solar panel, lamp and battery so they can start to enjoy the benefits of light at night and electricity all day. Then, as their income and opportunities start to increase, they continue to pay back the cost of the light.
That way, not only have they bought the light themselves and feel ownership of the equipment, but the money paid back stays in their group and can be used to invest in more solar equipment.