Deep down in the small village of Tikoishi, in Kajiado county about 100 kilometers off Nairobi city, both men and women are leaving to tell stories of their sleepless nights and battles with the wild animals to protect their livestock.
Living on the edge of Nairobi National Park, located in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, the Maasai communities have been battling consistent attacks by the wild animals that kill and eat their livestock in the night.
The marginalized Kenya Community entirely depends on livestock for their livelihood as they live in arid areas but for the past years the men have been spending the nights outside in the cold to keep wild animals from eating their livestock.
It has been entirely the men’s work to keep off these wild animals in the night using all possible means including lighting fires the whole night near the cattle bomas (cattle enclosure), using lantern light, chasing the animals away using the spotlights. This has been very risky to their lives as they are instead attacked by the wild. Women in this region have lost their husbands and sons who are on some occasions attacked by the wild animals in the night while guarding their herd and some have sustained serious injuries in the process.
But a solar project being spearheaded by SunTransfer is changing lives in this region and men are now starting to spend more time in their houses.
SunTransfer’s related companies for distribution and/or assembling, like the one in African, are in Kenya and Ethiopia.
In Kenya, the company has installed over 3,000 solar panels to individual rural homes and five to dispensaries.
The project consists of a pay-as-you-go financing model that enables families in rural off-grid areas to purchase a solar home system via an instalment credit. With the money otherwise spent on fuel for kerosene lamps, the credit can be paid off within three years.
According to Samuel Wanjiru, SunTransfer manager in Kajiado, the pay-as-you-go model offers its solar systems either on cash or credit terms, depending on what suits the customer most.
“Depending on the package, the interest rate is 1 percent for a period of between two and three years if the customer opts for the credit mode of payment,” Wanjiru said.
The project in Kajiado is being spearheaded by women, who are helping in the marketing and awareness creation about use of affordable renewable energy to the homesteads — a unique occurance in the region, since Maasai women are highly discriminated and are known to stay at home looking after their families.
Beatrice Marpe, 55, is a women leader in Tikoishi. Although her main role is to help women in this village solve their marital issues, she is now the ambassador of renewable solar power in this region.
Her role became complicated after women started complaining about losing their husbands due to the attacks by wild animal and/or complains that they are not spending much time with their husbands because they are out the whole night guarding their livestock and the whole day grazing them.
“When SunTransfer approached me in July 2014 with their solar idea and how I could use it to protect my livestock against the wild animals — although not sure of it — I took it,” the mother of four said. “I was not sure that it would work as they explained because I had not seen it work anywhere else before.”
She said that she had just lost her husband and was desperate because his role of guarding our livestock had now been entirely taken over by her younger son.
She took the home solar system package that has both the lighting and a television system for use both for the livestock and in the house.
“With the solar energy, the light not only scares away the wild animals and keeps off our worries about losing our cattle at night, it has enabled my sons to spend the nights in the house with the rest of the family members,” she said. “Compared with kerosene and firewood, the cost is now low and it is more convenient. We are also able to watch TV unlike before — something that is rare in this area.”
Before installing the solar power, her household spent at least US$0.50/day on kerosene alone to light outside in the animal bomas where her 172 cattle sleep.
“Since installing the solar, I have not had a problem with the wild animals,” she said.
As women visited her home, she would explain how the solar energy works and encourage them to take it up too. A majority of the women were interested, but the challenge was convincing their men to agree to the idea.
“I realized very few women would convince their men to take up the solar energy, and with the Maasai tradition, a woman cannot overrule the man’s decision, so I decided to change tact and encourage them to combine efforts,” she explained.
She formed a group of five women willing to take up the initiative and encourage them to contribute at least $5 or whatever they could afford to a central fund.
“Once the money is enough to give the first instalment based on what package they wanted, they go ahead and pay and start contributing for the other family in their group,” she said. “This has been working very well and the men are now even getting more involved.”
One such family that has benefited is that of Sikampe Kotikash, who lives in the same neighborhood with Marpe.
They have installed the solar power only for their livestock.
“We needed the light for the livestock more than for our household use,” Sikampe said.
His two wives, Sylivia Sikampe and Purity Sikampe, teamed up to contribute to the first instalment for installing the solar power.
“We make beaded bracelets and sell to people in the village or sometimes at the market,” Sylivia Sikampe said. “After being introduced to the solar energy idea, we decided to actively sell the beads and install it. Our husband, after seeing it work, got more interested and has now taken over the decision to pay the remaining amount.”
She said that her husband no longer has to sleep outside, and their livestock is safe.
“The solar light, scares the hyenas away, so we don’t have to worry about losing our animals at night,” Sikampe said. “All my brothers and most of my friends have installed the solar power after me because they have now seen the benefits.”
SunTransfer Kenya was established in 2009 to provide full power access to off-grid areas.
“Our main target is to install power for families in rural off-grid areas,” Wanjiru said.
The lifespan of the SunTransfer solar is around 20 years, enabling the families to significantly reduce their lighting expenses.
The solar systems come in different packages — ST20 comes with four light bulbs, a 20-watt solar panel, 12-volt battery, and phone charging kit. The ST50 comes with five light bulb, a 50-watt solar panel, and 38-volt battery system. ST100 has six light bulbs, a 100-watt solar panel, 24-inch digital TV, phone charging kit, and DC/AC inverter.
Installation and maintenance of the solar is done free of charge.
“The logistics however can be very challenging — villages in Kajiado in particular do not have good roads so delivery of the solar panels to the people and access to some homes is difficult,” Wanjiru said.
Christabel Ligami is freelance journliast, based in Nairobi.