Nobody expected that Chilumba Village in Karonga district, Malawi, could shine like it does - their homes are like stars lighting up the night.
It all started with a large macrosolar installation on the Teacher Development Centre (TDC), using power from the sun, to light class rooms. This was successful, attracting students from their homes to study into the evening. However, as good as it was, their lighting problem remained unsolved. Because, the moment students and teachers went home, they had the same old light in their homes - mainly candles, battery powered torches and kerosene lanterns.
For safety, students leave the TDC campuses at 8:00pm, so the question might be: is studying in the classroom enough for them to excel in their education? The answer is a definite no. If they are to gain good grades then they need to continue study at home. This is why we have a targeted schools campaign, which sells students solar power but at an affordable price.
Chilumba Village now operates as our hub, where we sell small and portable solar desk lamps to residents throughout the Hangalawe Zone, which has 18 schools and is headed by the Primary Education Advisor (PEA) Mr E Jabu.
Located at the foot of a beautiful mountain, Bundi is one of the schools which benefit. They have no electricity, not even one power line, but they do have a large solar panel installation, which, although beneficial to the immediate community, cannot reach those further afield. Making matters worse, there is a river which cuts the school off from others close by, when there are heavy rains. Consequently, students struggle to attend class. It is, therefore, of huge benefit for these students to study at home - our portable solar lights are perfect for this.
It is very hard to gain access to Bundi, but we managed it. I'll let you know how we get on very soon.
To help us sell even more solar lights and eradicate the kerosene lantern then please make a donation.
I recently caught up with Mr Chisale, a citizen of the beautiful district of Likoma Island. Mr Chisale had just bought a SunnyMoney solar light, or as he refers to it, the 'lion of brightness'. Having worked with the District Commissioners Office, he did not need much explanation about the benefits of solar and snapped up the system straight away. Below, Mr Chisale discusses the benefit in switching to solar, resorting to diesel for light and how he wishes to give a special thank you to The Body Shop Foundation:
Brave: Why have you chosen to buy this product?
Mr Chisale: I need reliable light.
Brave: Before purchasing a solar light, what were you using as a source of light?
Mr Chisale: Candles, kerosene and sometimes diesel since kerosene is so scarce here, being an Island.
Brave: How much have you been paying for them each?
Mr Chisale: Hoch (high), my friend, quite a lot. A candle costs MWK 50 each and every day. Kerosene, I do not know since it has been a long time since we had it here. Diesel is MWK 400 per litre, which would keep us going for a week and a half as a family.
Brave: But, diesel is very dangerous to your health, why were you taking such a life or death risk?
Mr Chisale: We had no choice my son. As you have seen for yourself we have had no other choices in Likoma. We really have to thank you for this wonderful thing that you have done, bringing these products here, that we people of Likoma never thought of.
Brave: We have them here because of the support from The Body Shop Foundation, what is your word to them?
Mr Chisale: I really thank and plead with them to continue with this wonderful work. It might sound simple to them but to us it is a great thing. My life is different today because of them and if there is a chance, let my words touch their ears on behalf of the entire Likoma population.
More news and updates soon.
To bring a clean and affordable source of light to even more rural communities, please make a donation.
A quick update to say that I was thrilled to re-visit Usisya village, Nkhata Bay North, and discover that the SunnyMoney microsolar business we had helped develop a few months ago was now fully operational. Indeed, working so well that the shop we visited to buy some eggs from when I arrived had a Firefly solar lamp in the front room!
Located along the lake shore and at the foot of beautiful mountains, Usisya is an isolated community connected by tough roads with limited transport by boat - a situation which hinders Usisya's development. What's more, like many rural communities, the people here are far from the electricity grid. Traditionally, they have only had access to expensive and dirty generators for power and toxic kerosene for light. Now, renewable energy is taking over as the necessary power source and the community are viewing solar as the solution to a energy crisis that they have faced for decades.
The village chief told me how kerosene had all but vanished from his village: "This is the development we need in this community, I'm very happy today that SunnyMoney has come to the rescue of 30,000 people. Our houses will now shine with these products and all worries are gone. I cannot remember the last time I smelled kerosene because you cannot easily find it here."
So, back to those eggs from the first paragraph! I spoke with the shop keeper about his experience with solar and he told me how much he prefers his new product to old lighting methods: "I'm very happy using this product. It is much better than the cheap torches and it saves money as I do not buy kerosene anymore and can charge my phone with it. The amount of lighting it is producing is satisfying, bright enough to see anything; I also use it when selling from my shop at night".
Later we gathered at Usisya Community Day Secondary School and interest in our latest solar products blossomed. The function was attended by all key stakeholders in the community, including chiefs, organisational representatives, fishermen, workers' representatives and other community members.
All in all SunnyMoney garnered tremendous success while we were there, thanks to our demonstration of new products and villagers' testimonials. I can't wait to see how much further solar has taken off next time I visit and I shall enjoy my solariased eggs!
To help our team bring solar power to even more rural people please make a donation.
Mr McDonald Nyambose is a Primary Education Advisor (PEA) and beneficiary of the Engucwini Teacher Development Centre's (TDC) microsolar programme. This particular TDC supplies local schools with resources including microsolar lights. McDonald acquired a Ravi solar lamp in August last year to alleviate energy sourcing problems.
Engucwini is one of the remotest areas in Mzimba district and isolated from active trading centres. Consequently, the area has limited access to traditional fuels such as kerosene. As a teacher without an alternative, kerosene has been an absolute necessity to enable McDonald to prepare lesson plans in the evenings. However, the nearest resource is Mzuzu city, 80 kilometres away. The trip costs MWK 1000 (£4) in transport fees and MWK 146 (60p) for every litre of kerosene. Because of the long distance McDonald had been forced to buy in bulk and store the highly flammable kerosene in his house, despite the risk of fire and toxic inhalation associated with the fuel. McDonald has used cheap torches and candles as alternatives, however, these methods are not only expensive, but, with candles, a fire risk.
McDonald's life has been transformed with the purchase of SunnyMoney microsolar lights. He said : "I'm happy with the way these products function. They are clean, portable, robust, healthy, safe and affordable. I use one to light the kitchen at night when my wife is cooking delicious food for the family. It is more efficient and safer to use compared to kerosene, plus the smell of kerosene often spoilt the food. After cooking, my daughters and son, who are at secondary school and primary respectively, use it for studying. Our other system is mainly used for lighting the living room because it is a brighter model. The savings I now make from not using kerosene and batteries are used to support my family's day to day basic needs.
As an education advisor in this area I have a big role to help the community, therefore, I find the microsolar systems useful as educational aids to explain better to community members about the difference solar can make to their lives."
Mcdonald has been working with the Head PEA, Mrs Ester Ng'oma, to educate local people on the value of solar. Ester said: "As the Head PEA of this zone, I am happy to be part of the SolarAid programme, both micro and macro. My work is now easy since I'm able to work at night time and consequently better organise my day. I applied for access to the power grid two years ago but nothing has been done to date and I do not know when it will be. SunnyMoney products have provided an immediate solution. They have eradicated most of the energy related challenges we have been facing in this area and other parts of the country. I will work hard to distribute more throughout my community."
Please enable us to help more rural communities discover the benefits of solar by making a donation.
I recently paid a visit to the Kanjuchi Teacher Development Centre (TDC) to supervise and monitor the distribution of microsolar products to local schools. In Malawi, TDCs are a resource for neighbouring schools and consequently are a great way to facilitate the distribution of our SunnyMoney microsolar lamps.
Despite being the last TDC in the area to have access to our products, Kanjuchi recently purchased 455 systems, of which 230 were sold in just two months, generating MWK 365,000 (£1,500). The availability of solar lamps has stimulated huge demand from the community. This allows Kanjuchi TDC to generate a profit and fulfill their commitment to pay a contribution towards the installation of a SolarAid roof-top installation, and buy new computers for students. The extra light in the evening also allows for better time management for teachers and consequently improves teaching standards.
Mr John Stone Nkhoma, a primary school teacher at Mgoza Primary School (a beneficiary of the Kanjuchi TDC) told me how he is using his new SunnyMoney light: "I like this product, it has given me more time to prepare my work than before. I used to have to walk 10km to buy kerosene or charge my phone. When it's not needed for light I can use my Ravi to power a radio. I listen to an education programme together with my pupils; which is great for their learning and helps with my teaching. My health has also improved since I'm now using clean energy that does not produce any poisonous gas."
It is so encouraging to be in the field witnessing how SunnyMoney products are changing people's lives. I was amazed to see children flocking towards me with words of thanks for their new solar light. Some were singing "Ungweru! Ungweru!" meaning "Light! Light!". They were excited because they will no longer have to use jasko (lighting grass commonly used in villages) as a source of light.
Please help us bring clean affordable light to as many school children as possible by making a donation here.
A few weeks ago I brought you news on the success of Mr JB Nyirenda's SunnyMoney kiosk in Nkhata Bay. Since then I have managed to catch up with two beneficiaries to discover how the acquisition of microsolar has changed their lives.
Mr BM Longwe is a Community Day Secondary School Teacher in Nkhata Bay and one of the first end-users to acquire a SunnyMoney lamp from Mr Nyirenda's kiosk.
When asked about the difference microsolar has made, Mr Longwe said: "I'm so happy using this wonderful product, it has positively changed my life in a short time. Before I acquired this product, I bought kerosene from the filling station which is very far (about 12 kilometres or a three hour walk) from where I work. On average I was spending MK800 (£3.30) per month on four litres of kerosene. When kerosene wasn't available (it can be very scarce) I would buy candles and torches, often spending MK1,200 (£4.90) on two torches each month and MK562.50 (£2.30) on batteries, because of their poor quality.
"Now, with SunnyMoney, all my money that was spent on light energy is saved and used to buy food, clothing and medication for the home. I also no longer spend time searching for sources of light. Consequently my working output has increased, and I can do work preparation in the evening as opposed to during the daylight hours. This gives me more time to organise my work and improves my efficiency."
Mr Meleke Zidebe Banda (above) was the first customer to purchase a SunnyMoney lamp in Nkhata Bay Central, in May 2010.
Mr Banda now has five products, mainly used by his grand children for studying at night and to light his house generally. He told me: "I'm a happy man today because I no longer spend money on kerosene, candles and torches. These microsolar products save me money because they do not have ongoing costs. My kids are happy with them because now they can study much more at night. Their performance at school has improved incredibly since they started using these products.
I would like to personally encourage donors to keep on supporting this organisation as they touch and change the lives of many in this country."
Please help us continue to support entrepreneurs and reach rural Africans in Southern and Eastern Africa with solar light by donating here.
I recently caught up with Mr JB Nyirenda, a successful entrepreneur operating in Nkhata Bay District in Northern Malawi. Mr Nyirenda began working with SolarAid in 2008 when I was a leading entrepreneur in the region and he was a key Sales Representative of mine. Since then I have developed my role and now operate as Field Coordinator for SolarAid in Malawi.
Mr Nyirenda was trained in 2009 by SolarAid volunteers to assemble and sell microsolar products to his community. The business quickly became the main source of income for his family, encouraging him to work harder and attain even greater sales. From a group of ten members, Mr Nyirenda is the best performer of all, registering more units sold than any other member.
In May 2010, Mr Nyirenda was nominated to manage a SunnyMoney kiosk in Nkhata Bay District. The kiosk is now the main distribution point of solar products in the area. In fact, since opening the shop, over 150 products have been distributed, generating an average income of MK28,500 per annum (£122) - a good wage in Malawi.
Mr Nyirenda said: "This business has had a very big impact on my life. I have stable income to support my family's day to day needs and I can pay school fees for my children, one of which has just graduated at the University of Malawi. My status in the community has also changed. Now I'm recognised as an important person because of an improved financial status and a social network with other important people in the community. They consider me a role model to inspire the young ones to work hard for success. Plus there is improved health since my family no longer uses kerosene as a source of light."
It is very important that we continue to support entrepreneurs such as Mr Nyirenda. Please make a donation to help bring clean and affordable light to as many people as possible.
Seeing is believing. Today in Luwinga, orphan Ruth Banda had tears of joy, excitement, appreciation and encouragement after receiving relief from the Kwithu Community-based Organisation (CBO). The group, a dedicated team of women, support orphans and other less privileged children in Luwinga township. I watched as they gave Ruth tablets of soap, salt, maize grains, beans and clothes to help her care for her family of sisters. You can find more about their work from a previous blog here.
The CBO are able to support people such as Ruth partly through the profit they generate from SunnyMoney microsolar sales. This also gives the entrepreneurs the opportunity to provide education support for Ruth and her sisters. In fact Ruth's younger sister has recently been offered a scholarship to study at Mzuzu Academy (a newly opened international high school, in the city of Mzuzu) - fantastic news.
So, let's all put our heads up, hands together and walk the same step as Kwithu CBO to support more poor communities as they look to escape poverty.
To support rural communities and contribute towards SolarAid's work with entrepreneurs, such as the Kwithu CBO, please make a donation.
Towards the end of my stay in Malawi I visited a women's group, most of whom were widows using SunnyMoney to benefit their local community. In Malawi, when you are widowed, you usually lose everything and end up in severe poverty. To combat the norm, this group is working together to train women in skills that could help provide income for their families. Although local crafts such as jewellery and embroidery are encouraged, in recent times three of the women have gained success as SunnyMoney franchisees.
With the money generated from SunnyMoney sales, the group has put some aside to buy food for orphaned children. They also pay for special soya porridge for those with HIV and other food types to ensure these children grow up with a balanced diet generally.
The SunnyMoney products are the best selling items that they have, selling 35 units since February this year. If a panel sells for MWK 1,500 (£6 ), MWK 1,000 (£4) goes to the entrepreneur and MWK 500 (£2) to the group. This has increased income by 50% for the entrepreneurs and allowed them to better provide for family support, food, bills and school fees.
One lady commented that before SunnyMoney she could not send aid to her brother who has a mental disorder, but after becoming a franchisee, she can afford to send him instalments of MWK 2000 (£8) to help him support himself.
To help SolarAid recruit more SunnyMoney franchisees and bring clean light to some of the world's poorest people please make a donation.
On my recent trip to Malawi I visited two entrepreneurs to learn more about their new profession as SunnyMoney Franchisees.
Lusungu Nkhowani owns a SunnyMoney kiosk in Mzuzu town market where she supplies 20 agents who sell our SunnyMoney products. She has been running the kiosk for two months since finishing high school. Now she says she can find money to pay for her five year old daughter's school fees, pay for her house rent, buy better food for her small family and pay the bills.
When she first started running the kiosk, Lusungu bought herself a three bulb Kadzuwa (the locally produced microsolar product). Now she is saving to buy a Ravi, which sell for 6500MWK (£28), Lusungu says it is a "good price for the customer".
John Nyirenda owns a kiosk in Nkata Bay, Malawi. He sourced the money to open the shop by selling one of his cows called Chimwemwe for 85,000K (£370), which is how the shop got its name. He has been running the store for six weeks and has managed to sell 11 Ravis.
SunnyMoney is now John's main profession but at home he is still a dairy farmer. Because of his new business, John is able to buy more food for his family and send his grand-daughter to secondary school. Without the business he would have had to sell all his cattle to keep her in school.
To read more about John and his story click here.
To support entrepreneurs like John and Lusungu please make a donation here.