Every night since her daughter Mercy began school, Carolyn Okeyo has faced a difficult choice.
Should she light her family’s kerosene lamp so Mercy can finish her homework, knowing that the lamp’s smoke makes her children cough and their eyes run? Or should she leave it unlit and let nine-year-old Mercy fall behind at school?
An hour and a half’s journey from the city of Kisumu and without even the most rudimentary track to her home, Carolyn had little hope that Kenya’s national electricity grid would ever reach her community: it would simply cost too much.
Only 22 per cent of Kenya’s population is connected to its national grid, so Christian Aid partner ACK Development Services (ADS) believed that Carolyn’s dilemma required a smart solution.
When Christian Aid spoke to ADS about Tough Stuff, a UK-based company providing solar energy to poor communities at affordable prices, it seemed there might finally be a cost-effective answer to the problems faced by people like Carolyn.
With a loan from Christian Aid, ADS had the money for an initial stock of packs containing a solar panel, lamp, mobile phone and battery charger.
With many years’ experience working through volunteers to bring healthcare to communities, ADS is well placed to reach isolated and poor areas. They identified a group of 48 volunteers who received training on Tough Stuff products and how to sell them.
Affordable energy solutions
The Tough Stuff entrepreneurs make a small profit on every pack they sell, helping to cover living costs and allowing them to continue to volunteer.
Georgina Malanga volunteers with ADS and cares for her own two children and orphaned niece, Faith.
She says: ‘The project has really helped me. It is better than handouts – when they are finished you are left with nothing again. The way they have helped us with Tough Stuff, they are going to leave me rich if I use the capacity they have put in me.’
And one month after buying a pack Carolyn, too, is already seeing the financial benefits of her investment. She says: ‘It has saved me from buying kerosene and batteries.’
Most importantly, Carolyn is seeing her children’s health improve. Respiratory infections remain one of the leading causes of death of children in Kenya and while Carolyn cooks outside her home, smoke from kerosene lanterns was affecting Mercy and her brothers.
‘The children used to have chest problems because of inhaling black smoke,’ says Carolyn. ‘For one month, they haven’t had them.’
Mercy adds: ‘I want to be a doctor because they treat people and make them well. I will achieve that because I am studying more than I used to so I will pass my exams.’
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