MY INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE AT SOLAR HEALTH UGANDA
My name is Erone Nalugo Mukahundirwe, and I recently completed secondary school at Uganda Martyrs Secondary School Namugongo with support from Brac Uganda’s MasterCard Scholarship Program. Once it’s safe to do so, I look forward to beginning the next stage of my education at the University level.
After UACE examinations, my educational sponsor, Brac Uganda, recommended that I apply for an internship with a local nonprofit working to improve the well being of people in our communities. I was fortunate that Solar Health Uganda, an NGO working on energy access, is located in a village close to mine and was willing to host me as an intern, helping to build my work skills and to make a difference in my community. Before COVID-19 shut down activities, I worked with the Solar Health Uganda team for 6 weeks, learning about energy poverty while gaining new skills and improving others.
Solar Health Uganda, (SHU), is a subsidiary of Kyosiga Community Christian Association for Development (KACCAD), and implements renewable energy projects in off-grid communities in partnership with Let There Be Light International, (LTBLI), a nonprofit based in the USA. SHU is an expert in the field of renewable energy and social safety net programming and consults with other NGOs on solar projects across the country and region.
Working under the supervision of Caroline Mwebaza, I learned about clean energy, solar lighting, and the needs of vulnerable people living in energy poverty. Ms. Mwebaza, a professional psychiatric clinical officer, likes that renewable energy access projects help people to overcome barriers to healthcare, improves some indicators of mental health including isolation among the elderly, and other complications of poverty in off-grid communities.
On a chilly Monday morning in early March I started my internship. I was excited about traveling to rural areas, where I knew that I would see beautiful scenery and have adventures. Also, I was committed to engaging in projects that actually could change someone’s life. Guess what…it all happened just as I anticipated.
The Solar Health Uganda consultants welcomed me to the team, helping me to be productive and have a good time during the internship.I was involved in activities like solar light distributions, conducting educational outreach sessions to raise awareness about energy poverty, and implementing follow-up surveys both in the field and over the phone.During solar distributions, I participated in vetting solar recipients who belonged to one or more of the targeted solar light M.O.D.E.S.categories, (Mothers, Orphans, Disabled, Elderly and/or Student). I then participated in the actual distribution of solar lights to recipients, a process which involved collecting demographic and lighting data using an online data tool installed on tablet computers.
I also participated in follow-up visits to homes of solar light recipients in the Wakiso Sub-County to check on them and their lights. (The solar lights have an average lifespan of3-5 years and have a replacement warranty of 2 years). During my time in the field, I visited the home of an elderly woman who has used her light for nearly 6 years! It was interesting to see that they can be used for such a long time.
Additionally, I made phone calls to help mobilize beneficiaries of LTBLI and SHU’s Safe Birth + Healthy Homes (SB+HH) project, encouraging them to attend focus group discussions at the two project sites in the Kyankwanzi District. Working closely with Caroline, I reviewed and analyzed maternal and infant health data from the Safe Births + Healthy Homes project sites.
While an intern, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Ben Kerman, a US-based Board Member of Let There Be Light International, and 6 University of Pennsylvania Wharton Global Impact Consultants who came to Uganda to carry out pro-bono impact assessments for the Safe Births + Healthy Homes project.
On March14th, we travelled with another partner, Ms.Tololupe, the Executive Director of Faithful with A few Ministries,to Kitayita Chance Primary School in a Sub-County of the Wakiso District. There, we were met by the Wharton Global Impact Consultants and Dr. Ben Kerman, who stopped by the school before heading to the airport to catch their flight.Working from morning until evening, the SHU team distributed solar lights to 200 vetted students. During the distribution activities, each student responded to a series of demographic and lighting survey questions after which he/she received a Pico (small, portable) solar light for use at home. The SHU consultants demonstrated how the lights worked and how to keep them safe in order to ensure long term functionality and use.It was a very busy day!
During the distribution, I noticed that the kids were happy to have the lights, and their parents, who were with them during the distribution, were very appreciative. Indeed, a solar light can bring a smile to peoples’ faces. I have seen this firsthand, and it made me very happy.
The internship opportunity enabled me acquire and improve a number of my skills including: planning, organizing, presentation, confidence, listening to others,openness and team work. I also had no prior computer skills but learned how to use Microsoft word, excel and power point. I also learned that you need to have good communication skills and empathy to work in community service.
I hope to return sometime to volunteer again with Solar Health Uganda. I was pleased to learn and to offer my services, as we work to make the world a little brighter.