Solar-Powered Human Rights

Written on Sunday, 15th of June

I write this in the aftermath of an ant-massacre that could have been prevented. I should have known better than to leave a candy-wrapper out. Now the blood of a million ants stain the keys I am writing on. Oh well, enough dramatic effect.

As part of my work here, I will survey the impact of Energy for Old Fadama so far, by surveying all 32 electrified buildings and speaking to the proprietor of each building. The capacity of these buildings range from about 150-600, meaning the scale of people involved in total is very big.

After over a full week here, I have come to notice the frequency of power outages, which will be my main concern when assessing the practical, theoretical and potential effects of having a solar panel.

So far I’ve surveyed 3 of the buildings, one school and two mosques, and the potential of the project is becoming more and more apparent. Power outages happen on average 3-4 times a week, for periods of 6-12 hours. The dark sets in around 6pm here, making it very difficult or costly to study about half of the week, depending on the number of power cuts. If the children can’t study and learn, this places a de facto limitation on their human right to education and development. Interestingly enough, my work with the Fadama Legal Assistance Program seems to overlap with EFOF in this regard, as we held a presentation on Thursday to a class of children in one of the electrified schools on domestic violence and human rights. Aside from the hilarious fact they call me Mr White, I was thoroughly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm these kids have for learning.

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Giving a presentation on human rights and domestic violence to school children in one of the electrified schools, Queensland School

Since the installation of the solar panels, children can gather at the school during power outages and continue their studies thanks to the fluorescent lights and light bulbs. There are clear long-term benefits with regards to literacy rates and consequently strong potential for empowerment through education.

Furthermore, the solar panels avoid the cost of having to buy fuel for power generators. This seems to have been a particular benefit for the mosques, who can simply turn on the light at night for Quran and Arabic studies during power outages without spending large amounts of money. There is a clear benefit in terms of freedom of religion, especially on Fridays when over 500 Muslims gather in one of the mosques for prayer. An additional benefit is that lights on the outside of buildings increase security at night, lowering the rates of thefts and assaults. Crime rates is one of the main issues EFOF will tackle as we investigate the possibility of installing solar lanterns in large communal areas around the slum.

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Interviewing the Imam of one of the Mosques
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A security light installed on the mosque, also allows members of the mosque to sell products outside the mosque in the evening.

So far, so good – although there have apparently been some complications with the battery of one solar panel. Luckily, five men in the slum have been trained by our supplier to conduct maintenance and repairs, and thanks to this, problems with the panels are resolved swiftly.

Next week I will attempt to survey an additional 10 buildings or more, as well as interview the Fadama Mamas (15 women employed to sell solar products to the residents) and the solar technicians to find out what they really think of the project, how it has affected them, and what they wish to see in the future.

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