Can you imagine a life without electricity? No lights after 7pm. No charging of phones. No electrical appliances. No fridge. No wifi. No TV. No nothing. Just complete darkness or the alternative of a dim, poisonous paraffin light. Imagine your children trying to study for a test while breathing that smoke into their lungs.
The past week I have been working with SUNami Solar, installing solar power in small villages in Uganda, far away from the power grid. We also visited several costumers to hear their stories on how getting solar power had affected their lives.
The first day we drove for about two hours, 3 people on one motorbike, to get to a small village. The landscape was amazing. Beautiful, green palmtrees everywhere, mountains, blue skies and dark, red dirtroads. We drove so far off grid, to places where few tourists would ever set foot. This felt like the real Africa. This was what I wanted to see. The fruit farms, the small, traditional houses, the friendly people, the kids running around.
At some point the road got too narrow, so we had to park the motor bike and continue on foot.
The first costumer we visited was a fruit farmer/ hairdresser. He had a SUNami solar panel with lights in his house, as well as a hairshaver he had made a little business out off. The hairshaver is one of the appliances SUNami offers, to give the costumers an extra income.
The next costumer lived on top of a mountain. There was no cell reception so we couldn´t reach him. There was no road, but we decided to hike up the mountain to see if we could find him. It was quite a hike in the heat. I imagined there would be one person or family living on a house on the mountain. When we got up there, it turned out to be a whole village! The kids came running towards me screaming MOSONGO MOSONGO!! They started off a bit scared, as I´m pretty sure I was the first white person they had ever seen in their lives. But after a while they all wanted to hang out with me. The costumer however, was nowhere to be seen.
One of the men said I should take a photo of the kids. They all went completely crazy when I took out my iphone. It was so surreal and amazing. I put my phone-camera on video-selfie mode and started filming while they could see the screen. They were so amazed to see themselves on a digital device, probably for the first time. They kept pointing to the screen where they saw themselves and laughed and laughed. I think this was my absolute favorite moment in Uganda.
After we came down from the mountain, we drove the motorbike back into a small village. Asuman, SUNami´s sales rep, said there was another costumer we could visit. We had not planned or made an appointment, so we didn´t know what to expect. When we walked into his hairdressing saloon, he was standing there, cutting hair, with several other costumers lined up. Some costumers wanted to know what kind of weird hair I had. Blond and straight? Never had they seen something like that before. It was funny, and so nice to see the business he had made for himself with the SUNami solar product.
He had also built a “cinema”, and said he really wanted a TV, so the village could watch films together.
He had already made the sign. SUNami was clear that he could get the TV when he had fully paid up the outstanding payments. Upgrading the system with appliances is one of the incentives SUNami gives to encourage customers to pay on time.
SUNami works by installing solar panels on people’s roofs. The costumer pays a small amount every day or week via mobile payment. If the costumer fails to pay for a while, the power is turned off via a charge controller. When they pay again, the power is turned back on, using the mobile network.
The next day we visited a banana farmer who lived on another mountain. He gave us a bunch of bananas, so now we were 3 people and a bunch of bananas on the one motorbike.
On my last day we went to install solar on several houses. I got to help out and play electrician all day, and it was so much fun to be able to give people power for the first time. The smiles on their faces when they flipped the light switch for the first time was priceless.
Can you imagine the feeling of having electricity for the very first time? I sure can´t. But I was lucky enough to observe it.
Unfortunately, that’s how the world is like. It’s not fair that some are rich and some are so very, very poor. How can people who earns 2-4 dollars per day, ever pay for electricity? It’s a luxury most would never be able to afford.
That’s why SUNami´s work is so important. Their systems with leasing make it affordable. They provide quality panels, free installation on the houses, maintenance, service, educating entrepreneurship videos on a tablet on visits, and appliances to help people create their own business. The costumers only pay a small deposit, and then they pay-as-they-go. This is how new innovations such as mobile payment can create affordable business models that help improving lives.
It has been such an adventure to take part in a SUNami workweek, and I have learned so much. Both as a person, and as a solar power student. Electricity is one of the first steps towards better living standards, education and connection to the world. It has been so educating and meaningful to be able to give that to someone. Thank you SUNami Solar, for having me!
Next stop: Rwanda.