Most of us take switching on the lights after dark for granted but in large parts of the world it is not as easy as flicking the switch. Which is why it was so fantastic to see the “Light Up a Village” project in Gambia.
The project was set up by Ram Mohan – a Gambian businessman of Indian decent. Ram’s main business is the export of cashew nuts from Gambia and Senegal to India. In the course of this business he came across the problem that many households in rural Africa use candles after dark to cook, work or study. This imposes a cost of around US$0.20 per candle on a household. This might not sound a lot but one candle every day means around US$6 a month and US$73 per year (around £47 or €55) – this is a lot of money for a rural Gambian. The light from candles is also low quality and brings a fire risk.
Ram came across the solution in India – a solar power light – this is charged during the day (the picture below shows the on the roof of the house). At night the light can be hung indoors or used as a torch. It can also be used to charge mobile phones. The lights give up to 15 hours of light with a 6 hour charge. It is bright clear light – great for the kid’s studies.
Ram, however, has not stopped at a charitable donation – oh no – he is after all an entrepreneur – his “Light up a Village Project” goes beyond that. Ram asks donors – be they corporations or individuals – to sponsor the lights in a specific village. Part of that donation is used to set up a village group to manage the lights, keep them maintained etc. This group then charges each household for the use of the lights at the rate on 1 Dalasi per light per night (in Gambia candles cost around 7 Dalasi each so the household is still saving 6 Dalasi every night). The money from ‘rental’ charge goes into a village fund to maintain the lights but also, importantly, it builds up a surplus that can be used for other things. One village has used the surplus to buy a threshing machine that they now rent out to other villages. All very entrepreneurial and self-sustaining after the initial donation!
The village I visited was called Kanuma and the installation had been sponsored by The Gambia Experience as part of their 25 year anniversary celebration.
To see how grateful the villagers of Kanuma were please see my next Kumpo blog post.