Solar Ingenuity

sun through treesImagine huddling around a dim kerosene lantern with your sisters, brothers, and neighbors, as you study the words in your notebook. Dark smoke from the flame curls gently up the walls and settles near the ceiling. You begin to worry as you notice that the oil in the lantern is low, and you haven’t yet finished your schoolwork. For many children living in rural Rwanda, this has been a daily reality--until now.

Association Inkoramutima, a community-based organization in Rwanda, is approaching this problem with a unique brand of enthusiasm and ingenuity. They’re providing forty families who have limited incomes in the Gakenke District of Northern Rwanda with solar panels in order to illuminate their houses and even power radios.

As simple as this project may seem, the implications are manifold and extensive. As in many rural areas, there is no electricity in Gakenke, constraining families to the use of kerosene lamps. Although these lamps provide some light by which families cook and children study in the evenings, there are many adverse health affects and safety concerns associated with burning these lanterns indoors.

Seeing this, as well as how much money families were spending on kerosene and batteries, Association Inkoramutima developed an innovative plan to further empower their community. With their grant from the Firelight Foundation, they are purchasing 40 full solar panel kits, along with installation and maintenance manuals, which have been thoughtfully translated into the local language of Kinyarwanda.

After the kits have been distributed to the forty families, these families will then make payments to the Association of about three dollars a month, which is more or less the amount they will have saved on kerosene and batteries. Additionally, these families are able to generate small amounts of income by letting people charge their mobile phones with the solar power for a small fee.

Once the Association has recovered the costs of the original kits, they plan to use that money to provide more kits to other families who have few resources and limited funds. In this way, Association Inkoramutima has efficiently and thoughtfully leveraged this grant into a community-owned and sustainable system that has empowered many families and has the potential to empower so many more.


a young woman and two children

This blog was written by guest blogger and Firelight volunteer Amanda Hill. Amanda has been a volunteer since 2010 and worked with Firelight as a grantmaking assistant this summer. She is currently studying sociology at University of California Santa Cruz. She’s interested in community development and has traveled in West Africa and South Asia.