A week ago we gave solar kits to four teachers at Sankandi Basic School, not far from where we’re staying, as part of our pilot program to test the community’s reaction to the lights. On Thursday I did follow-up interviews with these four teachers. What I learned surprised me: people use the lights in very different ways.
Ziezi Mulatamboo spoke quickly in excellent English, smiling as she explained to me how the Pharox kit kept the lights on in her home. One week ago, the car battery that she used to power a stereo and a single bulb stopped working. The same day, we arrived with the solar kits. Since then she’s used the kit every night to provide light for her, her two daughters, 7 and 9, and two dependents, 16 and 9, who are nieces living with her. Ziezi’s one complaint about the light is that it doesn’t have a stand. I tell her that there is one included the box already!
Ziezi uses her light starting at sundown, which is at 6 p.m. this week because of the winter solstice. She turns the light to the strongest setting when she or her family members are writing or reading. The children study from 7 p.m. until 8 or 9 p.m. Ziezi, who teaches grades 8 and 9, works on her lesson plans. When they go to sleep, around 9 p.m., she turns the light to its lowest setting and leaves it on as a night-light until sun-up at 7 a.m. the next morning.
She charges the unit every day, but only for an hour or two during lunch, because she doesn’t want to leave it outside when she’s not there. I asked if she had thought about putting the solar panel on her thatched roof. She said she wasn’t tall enough to reach!
Cipher Mwitumwa teaches grade 7 at Sankandi Basic and doesn’t have a car battery, as some other teachers do, to power a lightbulb. Before getting the Pharox light, she used candles at night, costing her about 7500kw per week for five of them. Now she uses the solar light for three to four hours every night, until she goes to sleep at 10 or 11 p.m. She charged it all day Monday on a chair in her garden, and it’s had enough power to last the three nights since then. She uses the light to write lesson plans for her class and to read novels and the Bible.
Lubanda Priscah is a slim, quiet woman who hasn’t used her light at all since she got it a week ago. She told me that she knows how to charge it, but she hasn’t had time to. This is a problem we’ve run into several times: some people think the solar kit should be saved for a special occasion. Instead Lubanda has been using a single lightbulb powered by a car battery, which she charges infrequently with a friend’s large solar panel. She only uses the bulb two nights a week, though, and still uses candles on other nights, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. With this light she writes her lesson plans and occasionally does some reading. Even though she hasn’t used the Pharox kit herself, her brother visited and used it to charge his cell phone, which took about an hour and a half. This is another major hurdle for our program: in a patriarchal society, how can we ensure that the lights empower women?