Ordinarily Maasai women spend their day tending sheep and goats and working inside their dark, smoky mud houses. For five Maasai grandmothers, aged between 38 and 52, life has taken a very different turn having recently graduated as Solar Engineers from Barefoot College, India following six months of intensive training. This extraordinary act by ordinary women was implemented by Basecamp Foundation, part of eco and adventure travel company Basecamp Explorer.
Hailing from the Naboisho Conservancy, a 20,000Ha community owned conservation area located east of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, these heroic women will each work in one of five remote villages, which have little hope of being connected to the national grid, to provide their communities with light through solar power. The lighting will allow women to cook and make their beadwork inside their previously dark houses and permit children to study without detriment to their health.
Naboisho Manyattas (Maasai villages) are a gruelling 6-hour drive from Nairobi. Basic provisions are scarce and expensive, and the only source of power to light the dark, poorly ventilated houses is from kerosene lamps made from fabricated cooking oil tins. Not only is Kerosene extremely expensive and damaging to the environment, these villages also face the risk of house fires and the poor ventilation increases occurrence of respiratory diseases.
Light from a log-fire or from the Kerosene lamp is not sufficient for schoolchildren to read by. Many perform below the national average and school dropout rates are among the highest in the country. Benefits of Solar Power to these communities include a cheaper and more reliable source of energy, less pollution, extra light in the evening for homestead activities and studying, reduction in diseases brought about by the smoke in the houses and the education of local women.
Having left their villages and country for the first time, these women have learnt to interpret solar designs, construct sophisticated charge controllers and inverters, and install solar panels and solar batteries. Incredibly, all of the teaching took place via sign language. Returning home, they are now able to use these skills and knowledge to provide much needed light to their villages using environmentally sustainable approaches.
This is just the beginning, these inspiring women, as part of the Basecamp Foundation Green Villages Initiative, will install solar power to several more villages across the Masai Mara region in 2011, enabling local Masaai communities to become self-sufficient, sustainable while benefitting from better living conditions.