It has been said that solar lights can change lives. It sounds true, but why? And how? And for whom?
It’s easy for people who have lived in extreme energy poverty to relate to how hard life can be in a house filled with carbon toxins, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions. For those of us who have used paraffin and candles to light our lives, we know the dangers of unsafe fuels. We wake up with headaches and soot in our noses, we worry that our open flamed lights might catch fire to a bed net. We suffer from respiratory and eye diseases at high rates due to our poor indoor air quality. Our children are at risk for pneumonia, burns and poisonings. We live with challenges that many people with access to reliable, safe electricity will never know.
With increased health challenges come low productivity due lost work days, termination from employment, absenteeism at school, and other socioeconomic stressors.
Below is the story of one child who suffered the tragic consequences of energy poverty.
His name is Steven Sensumbi, and he is a 5 year old boy who was burnt by an open flame kerosene lamp in his home one night. ’
One night of 2016, Steven was sleeping while Doris, his young, single mother, was outside preparing a late dinner for her children. The kitchen is 10 meters away from their house, far away enough so that the harmful smoke from the three stone fire would not disturb the health of her children. Not wanting the children to wake up in total darkness, she left a small kerosene tin lantern locally known as Tadooba in their single roomed house. It was something she had done many times before, always careful to keep the flame away from the children and their bednets in her small home. Suddenly, Doris saw smoke and heard a loud, terrible scream from her little boy crying for help. By the time Steven’s mother reached the doorway she could hardly find a way through the fire. In spite of the flames, Steven’s mother entered the engulfed room to save her son. She gathered her small boy and wrapped him in a piece of cloth, and pushed through the fire only to faint when she emerged.
Two neighbors hurriedly put the mother on one bicycle and Steven on another bicycle and rode to the nearby village health center, about 20 kilometers away.
Steven, a small boy with a big spirit, lost his left arm and sustained severe injuries on his head and torso. After more than a year in Mulago National Referral Hospital, Steven was finally able to go home with his grandmother. Sadly, however, Doris was not so lucky. She gave her life for her son, leaving him an orphan with a challenging disability. KACCAD identified this child during a physiotherapy mobile clinic held in his village of Kabulubutu where he was brought to see the doctor of physiotherapy from IHI International.
During an interview with Steven and his grandmother, I came to learn that they were still using kerosene tins to light their household. After all that they had gone through - all the loss and injury and tragedy - they still had no safe way to light their home.
Immediately we had to do something. Thanks to our partnership with LET THERE BE LIGHT INTERNATIONAL, we were able to donate a safe, solar, renewable light to Steven. His grandma said she has been spending 1,500 Ug.shs on kerosene every week and it was expensive for her and now she will buy.her grandson books to use during the school term. They are both so happy. And, now, they are safe when they light their home at night.
The benefits of solar energy are clear, especially in low-resource, off-grid homes. Not only does solar save money, but solar lights are changing lives.
By George Mike Luberenga
LTBLI Solar Outreach, Educational and Evaluation Consultant