Sam and I have been having a blast in Sakpalua this week! I hope that you all enjoyed the video of building the solar center. Since then, the village has helped us plaster the building and install the solar panels. It looks great!
Once the solar center was all set up, we started training the women entrepreneurs. The village nominated 4 women to work at the center: Lydia & Damu – the two water entrepreneurs; and Fuseina & Saramatu – two new ladies! We were so thrilled that the elders nominated 4 women because it means that this great income-generating opportunity could be shared. Lydia and Damu are also planning to show Fuseina and Saramatu how to run the water business, so all four of them can manage both businesses together. Sam and I think that its going to work out really well!
On Wednesday, Sam, Shak and I showed the ladies how to hook up the battery to the inverter, and then the solar panels to the battery (through the Burro Genset which also has a charge controller). They caught on very quickly and were pros before we knew it!
When we returned to Sakpalua this morning, we had the ladies de-wire the whole system and put it back together again without our instruction. They nailed it!
After finishing up our training with the women, Sam, Shak and I distributed the Burro lanterns to the families in Sakpalua. These lanterns usually retail for 20 GHC (about 9 USD) but each family had the chance to “opt in” to the solar program by buying a lantern for 1 GHC. If they decided to pay 1 GHC, each family received 1 lantern to share. They can buy more at retail price from the women entrepreneurs at any time. Every family that we visited opted into the program and they were all so excited to receive a lantern!
Each lantern uses 3 rechargeable batteries that people in Sakpalua can rent from the ladies at the solar business for 10 pewas (about 5 cents) each. The batteries should last about a week, depending on how often each family uses their lantern. When the batteries lose their charge, people can return them to the solar center and get “fresh” ones for 10 peswas each. Just like Kurugu Vohoyilli and Wambong, people can also charge their cell phones at the solar center for 50 peswas each (about 23 cents). The ladies in Sakpalua decided that they wanted to charge the same price to charge a cell phone as the people in their village pay in Tamale. Fuseina noted that if people are willing to travel for over an hour to charge their phone for 50 peswas in Tamale, they should be happy to avoid the travel and same the same price in the village! We will see how sales go, but so far everyone seemed satisfied with the price when we explained it during distribution. Gotta love Fuseina’s supply-and-demand theory!
The only hiccup that we ran into today was that the roof of the solar center was leaking. Shak and I will be bringing a carpenter tomorrow morning to fix it so that we will be all ready for opening night tomorrow night! While we are fixing the roof, Sam will be going to Chani with Wahab to hold a meeting with the chief about bringing a solar business to their community. If all goes well, two new villages and over 1,000 people will gain access to solar electricity this month! A HUGE thank you to Next Step Living for supporting CWS’ expansion into solar. We could not do any of this work without you!
It has been almost 3 weeks since the solar center opened in Kurugu Vohoyili. The solar center entrepreneurs, Ayi and Fuseina, report that business is going well. Community members say the lanterns are useful for cooking, studying, working at night and make them feel safe from scorpions lurking in dark corners. The entrepreneurs say people have been coming to exchange their dead batteries for “fresh ones” and cell phone charging sales are high, especially at night.
Last week on April 2, CWS Assistant- Project Manager: Shak, and I had the privilege of visiting the solar center in Kurugu Vohoyili with the Burro team, Burro founder: Whit Alexander, Burro Country Director: Carol Brown and Business Development Manager: Caleb Darko. Burro is a bottom-up social business based out of Koforidua that markets high quality, life-improving products to low-income and rural populations. CWS has partnered with Burro to bring lanterns, gensets and solar panels to the solar center pilots.
When we arrived at the center, Fuseina was there open for business! There were 34 batteries charging but no phones just yet. Fuseina said that some people still had charge in their phones but they would come. We checked out the solar panels, which had a layer of dust and some mud splotches. The Burro team was helpful in advising Ayi and Fuseina to clean the panels every morning with a cloth and water to remove all dust in order to get the most sunlight possible. Whit also advised the women to use alcohol to remove any residue build up on the AA batteries to make them more efficient. Burro’s mantra of “Do More” shined throughout the community visit.
Shak and I visited 6 households with the Burro staff. All 6 households still had charged batteries in their lanterns. 4 out of 6 households had charged cell phones at the solar center. The 2 households without charge still had charge remaining from before the solar center opened. These households have been conserving their cell phone battery to keep fuel costs down. They used to travel several miles to Tali to charge. I predict that cell phone charging demand will rise over time as the solar center is conveniently located in the center of Kurugu Vohoyili.
Burro Founder, Whit, started asking households about what they used to do for energy prior to the solar center. Most households used kerosene, spending 5-6 GHC on kerosene every 3 days. Now they no longer use kerosene, opting for the cleaner, cheaper energy offered at the solar center! KV community member Alimatu brought out her kerosene lamp to show us what she was using before. It was striking to see the kerosene lamp and Burro lantern side by side. Alimatu asked us if she could use the Burro lantern as a night-light to fall asleep, she had been using a kerosene lamp before. We said yes and her face lit up!
It was encouraging to monitor with the Burro team and to see the fruits of our labor after the pilot. A big thank you to Whit, Carol and Caleb for coming all the way to Tamale to check out the solar center and for all of their consulting.