At Little Sun, we’re always saying that we aim to have a positive impact on people’s lives who are living without energy access, by bringing them solar light and energy. But what does that really mean on a day-to-day level? What positive impacts are we actually talking about, in real terms?
Right now, one of the biggest positive impacts we’re making is empowering schoolchildren with solar lights to read and study with. We aim to empower a generation of schoolchildren to hold hands with the sun: to be empowered and connected to the world and to believe in the power of themselves and renewable energies, and to simply have a light for their everyday lives. We’re doing this in rural schools and refugee camps, with school programs, reading programs and educational programs, for as many students as we can in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Niger, Uganda, Morocco and Tanzania. We’re doing this with our trusted local partners and NGOs who share our vision of a world where every child has the power to read.
Interestingly, the impact of bringing clean and affordable energy to off-grid communities is felt most greatly by women and girls. Why? More lives are saved in childbirth, cooking is no longer deadly, more women are able to provide for themselves and their families and more girls are in school. For schoolgirls, solar affords more time to devote to reading, for example, rather than the daily, mind-numbing chores related to producing household energy such as collecting firewood. As Electricity Matters notes, power really does mean empowerment. And this is why we do the work that we do.
Why is reading powerful?
Well, remember when you were a kid at school and your teachers and parents were always trying to drum into you how important it is in life to read, to read well, and to read a lot? Once you understood what they were on about, the feeling of getting lost in the pages of your books was something life-changing, mind-altering. And even if you were a kid who didn’t particularly like books, there was always one that made you feel less alone in the world. A good book can be like a friend who reminds you that, no matter what, you are a valuable human being on this planet. A good book can give you the inspiration and insight to be the person you want to be.
Imagine being a child growing up without electricity and never having the freedom to delve into a book whenever you needed to. Imagine that your reading experiences were restricted to school time and maybe an hour stolen here and there in between housework and farm work, by the light of a candle. Imagine what a different person you would have grown up to be if this had been your life – what inspirations and insights you would have missed out on…
For the 16 million Ethiopian schoolchildren living off-grid, this is their reality. They may grow up never having the experience of stories and characters leaping off the page and coming alive in their minds. There simply isn’t time in the day since school and labour take up the daylight hours and in the hours after sunset, there is no reliable or healthy light to read with. Many students leave for school early in the morning when it is still dark out and then after class, they must return home to help in the fields; often not getting home until after dark. The only time for them to read and study is after their work is over, at night time. Most students living in off grid regions are reliant on dangerous, polluting and expensive kerosene or candles for their lighting.
Our POWER TO READ program in Ethiopia
Little Sun’s POWER TO READ program in Ethiopia is changing all that. By integrating our program with Ethiopia’s Ministry for Education “READ” Program and partnering with various NGOs on the ground, we are putting the power of reading into the hands of Ethiopian schoolchildren, one solar lamp at a time.
The Ethiopia READ Program is run by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE) to develop a nationwide reading and writing program. The Project is funded by and coordinated in cooperation with USAID. The objective of the program is to improve the reading and writing skills of children in grades one through eight in both their mother tongue and English.
In February 2017, 2000 Little Sun solar lamps were distributed amongst classrooms thanks to local NGOs: Tigray Development Association in the Tigray Region and Pro Pride Amhara in the Amhara Region. Three schools (Yigodi, Yibbab and Wondata) were identified in the Bahir Dar Zuria district as being in need of solar lamps. The decision was made in consultation with the regional education bureau. To then decide on which students were most in need of receiving a solar lamp, selection criteria were given to the school principals to use as a guide. It was decided that priority should be given to students in grades five through eight, and for the most fair distribution, there should only be one lamp given per household. The decision-making process was approved by “Tabya” Leaders and the surrounding community in their meeting.
The handover ceremony for the lamps was a significant one, involving the Woreda education office heads, Tabya leaders and the community at large. At the ceremony, Tabya Leaders, PTSA members and the students themselves expressed their heartfelt thanks to TDA and the Power to Read Project funders.
After receiving their Little Suns, students were given a tutorial on the lamp by Ato Amare, the regional manager for READ Co: how to use it the lamp in their daily life and how to use it to prolong their study time at night. They were also told that they would need to report back on how they made best use of the lamps, taking full advantage of borrowing more books to help them in their study, spending time in reading camps, book bank centres and reading corners.
The monitoring and evaluation of the program is led by the Ministry of Education, together with the Regional Education Bureaus. It is expected that the additional time that students will now be able to spend reading and writing will positively impact on their grades – so even those kids who grow up hating reading and writing, the additional study time lamps afford them will also help them improve in the subjects they do actually enjoy!
The Power of a Bright Future
Every child deserves a bright future. We want to help to enable this future by providing a clean and safe reading light for every child who lives without energy access, every night. We call our program POWER TO READ because having a handheld solar light to read by is empowering.
When a child has her own safe, reliable light, she gets to choose when she reads and writes, regardless of how dark it is outside. Solar light brings not only the obvious health, safety and environmental benefits when compared to dangerous and toxic kerosene and candles, but it puts the power of choice in the child’s hands.
This empowerment extends beyond the individual level, to whole families, communities and even ripples out to affect Africa as a whole. If every family in off-grid Africa with children in school were to have a small solar lamp like a Little Sun as their first step on the energy ladder, the society as a whole would move faster towards using modern renewable energy as their primary source of power.
Our other programs for students
Our POWER TO READ program is just one of the programs we’ve developed to empower students living beyond the electrical grid. Take a look at our related stories below for more.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Education: supporting our engagement and directing the use of lamps and the feedback collection
USAID: advice on best integration into the READ Program they run with the Ministry of Education and various NGOS
NGOs Pro Pride Amhara and Tigray Development Association: implementation of pilot projects into the READ Program they are running with the Ministry
Save the Children International: integrating a pilot into their READ Community Outreach Program
Credit: ProPride, TDA & Little Sun