Second chance for ‘Solar Mamas’

At the age of 65, the average American is starting the handover process into retirement. For Kirotiana Kibubuk this was the age she decided to start all over; a woman who had never seen a day of formal education in her life.

She left her homeland in Narok, Kenya, a place where the wind sweeps dust devils across the horizon, jumping over small bushes. Where goats and cows meander under watchful eyes. She left her community of neighbors who walked to each other’s houses consistently.

 65-year-old Kirotiana Kibubuk instals a solar lighting system in Narok County, Kenya.

65-year-old Kirotiana Kibubuk instals a solar lighting system in Narok County, Kenya.

She left this place through a partnership with Barefoot College and after six months of training in India, she returned home to begin her new job of installing and repairing solar lighting systems.

Since 2008, Barefoot College has trained enough rural grandmothers to bring electricity to 40,000 households all over the world. Kibubuk has now joined the ranks of the affectionately known “Solar Mamas.”

“Many who see me working say that I’m a hard worker, but I can secretly see that they wish it would have been them doing this,” she said.

During her time in India, she noticed that Indians were “way ahead” and also that women were empowered to do different work.

“Women are in every field; be it construction, fabrication, or even tailoring.” She said. “Again, they are not wealthy, but they use many machines to do their work.”

Upon returning she was a bit worried that maybe she had forgotten some of the things she learned but as soon as she started working it all came back to her. Armed with a pair of pliers, hammer, screws, pins and a wire Kibubuk confidently set to work.

 Beneficiaries receive last minute instructions during purchase, on maintenance of solar sets in Narok County, Kenya.

Beneficiaries receive last minute instructions during purchase, on maintenance of solar sets in Narok County, Kenya.

“I even know how to reinforce a solar panel on top of a mud house so it doesn’t cave in together with the roof, when rain falls,” she said.

World Concern, with funding from UNDP, helped 90 households in Narok County receive solar lighting. Due to the remoteness of some areas in Narok, residents lack access to electricity power grid. World Concern is filling market gaps by providing a bright four-lantern sets at a subsidized and one-time cost with two-year warranty support.

The uniqueness of the project is in empowering not only the solar recipients but also helping employ Solar Mamas like Kibubuk.

“The money goes back to the same local economy. It’s more of a community project than business,” says Narok Program Officer John Leyian.

With brighter homes has come a 40% reduction in eye infections and 33% reduction in upper respiratory infections by eliminating the use of diesel and kerosene because the light is so weak. The better lighting has also made it easier for school children to study. And the number of kerosene related accidents in those homes has reduced to almost zero.

On top of that, Kibubuk is quick to add that the security light outside the home makes hyenas afraid to attack their livestock, an important factor to the semi-pastoralist community.

Photo by Christena Dowsett/World Concern Alice Nchoe and her husband purchased solar lighting that was installed by a solar mama. They live in Kamelil village in Narok county, Kenya.
Alice Nchoe and her husband purchased solar lighting that was installed by a solar mama. They live in Kamelil village in Narok county, Kenya.

 

Words and Photos by Edwin Kuria and Christena Dowsett
Video by Christena Dowsett