The Women Bringing Solar Power to Sierra Leone

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A group of 12 women from villages in Sierra Leone is in the frontline of a battle to bring solar-powered electricity to rural communities. No small feat, given that rural Sierra Leone is not connected to power.

The women were all trained at Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, in western India. They are now back in Sierra Leone assembling 1,500 household solar units at a new Barefoot College in Konta Line village, Port Loko district, which is to be formally opened next month. They sit at long wooden tables fitting tiny coloured resisters to circuit boards – heads tilted, deep in concentration, as smoke puffs up from their soldering irons.

The women are all either illiterate or semi-literate – they used to be subsistence farmers, living day-to-day like millions in Sierra Leone. But now they are proud graduates, having travelled 6,000 miles to India to learn – in the women’s words – “how to make light from the sun”.

“The idea of solar was so surprising that I had to be a part of it,” says Mary Dawo from Romakeneh village.

“Snakes, rodents, reptiles and biting insects crept and crawled into our homes with the dark at 7pm. Children couldn’t study, and we couldn’t relax, socialise or plan our lives after a long day’s work,” says Fatmata Koroma from Mambioma village.

The Barefoot College in Sierra Leone is the first in Africa. It will enrol up to 50 students on four-month residential courses in solar engineering. The Sierra Leone government has invested about $820,000 in the project. Though the college is funded by the government, the women hope they can run it independently, in what they describe as the “Barefoot way”. The solar equipment the college runs on, and the equipment for 10 villages, was provided by the Barefoot College in India, and the initial training was sponsored by the Indian government as part of its south-south co-operation programme.

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