|Kenyan's solar lamps to empower the poor|
By Helen Vesperini (
Around 15,000 devices have been turned out
As a child growing up in west
But his father, whom he describes as a teacher who was "very strict" and "my greatest inspiration", saw that he completed his studies and made it into a university.
Once there, Wadongo started wondering how to improve conditions for children in communities similar to his home village - and there are many. Though
The young man had always wanted to help people but did not have the stomach to go into medicine, so he opted for engineering. He was only 19 when he invented his first solar lamp after using part of his student loan to buy what he needed.
"Then, I never thought it would take off on this scale. I just wanted to take one to my grandma," he recalled.
Some 15,000 lamps have been turned out since production started in 2004, and Wadongo says his goal is to hit 100,000 by 2015.
"I started in the village where I grew up, and I saw kids going from primary into high school," he told AFP.
He has no time for
For Wadongo, the lamps are not an end in themselves, but rather "a way to lift people out of poverty".
He and his team from the "Use Solar, Save Lives" project start by identifying impoverished communities that rely on kerosene lamps for lighting - when they can afford the fuel. They hand out 30 lamps to a community association, often a women's group, and encourage the locality to pool the money each family saves by no longer buying kerosene.
When the fund accumulates the group can use it for a project, such as fish farming or rabbit breeding.
Nomadic communities get a special model of lamp for easier transport.
Typical is Chumbi village, some
"They all want lamps," said Agnes Muthengi, a representative from a local association, the Kalima Kathei Women's Fellowship, who accompanied Wadongo to the village.
Jennifer David, 47, lives in a mud-brick house flanked by outbuildings made largely from scrap metal.
"Since I got this lamp, things have changed," David told AFP. "Before I was using kerosene. It smelled and gave off a lot of smoke, and I was using a lot of money to buy the kerosene."
Now, her children can read and study in the evening, without cost or nuisance.