Late in March 2010, I made a visit to one of the communities in Kitui West Constituency in Eastern Part of Kenya. The mission being to find out the thinking of the local people on whether they would prefer Solar Energy for home use. We drive off from Nairobi at 10.00am with a few other colleagues. As we move in the beauty of the green environment, I am reminded of a few months earlier when the place was completely dry and how the people were starving and surviving on wild fruits and rodents for their daily meals.
After two and half hours drive, the tarmac road comes to an end and we enter a rough terrain. We drive for another 40 Kilometer in the interior. The villages of the greater Yatta Plateau are sparse and wide. I spot three men in their late 50's and stop to talk with them. They are very happy to engage with me. I tell them my mission in the village is to find out whether they would prefer using Kerosene or solar Lamps for their home use. One of them exclaims that Solar Lanterns are very expensive and out of reach. I ask how much he spends to buy kerosene and he tells me sometimes he uses money and sometimes he has to sell one of his animals in the homestead to get cash for school fees for his children and food for daily use.
Such is the life in the village where people live in absolute poverty. Talking of living on a dollar a day is a dream. They have never seen a dollar in their life and all they depend on is the old barter trader. When I explain to them about the economies of subsidizing solar lanterns and why it is important for them to consider changing dependency on Kerosene, they all node in excitement and we get into details of how it works. One of them is extremely excited and asks that we bring a sample so that he can use it to believe it.
The villagers believe that if they get hold of the life changing devises, they will stop their dependence on Kerosene and stop walking long distances of over 40 Kilometers per day to go and charge their mobile phones. They tell me almost all the homes will be willing to buy them if it makes economic sense.
We set off to visit a few schools and on our way our 4x4 car gets stuck in a sandy path in a dry river bed. It hasn't rained for a long time and as such the seasonal river has completely dried. The villagers come to finally rescue us and we pulled off after three hours of struggle. At the next stop we find the village chief and the school head teacher waiting for us to hear the kind of news we have brought them. They say they have never seen any Non Governmental Organizations in their communities and so they will be very supportive of the imitative that we are seeking to establish in the area. But they are wary, that we look so young and might not be genuine. Young people are not supposed to be concerned about development initiatives.
As we trail further through the village we see fresh mango trees, we stop by to quench our thirst as my colleagues pluck out the Sweet Mangoes. A thought crosses my mind on how the villagers can utilize the high mango yields. My interrogation further reveals that the season ends after five moth of high yet wasteful yields. The villagers have to content with the lack of preservation and processing units to make sure they make ultimate use of their harvests instead of wasting them due to lack of Markets. One of the Women Entrepreneurs tells me that they have only 2 busses that leave from the village to the nearest Kitui Town which is 100KM away. If you miss the bus then you have to wait for the next day. The bus is always generally full since there are many travelers. As such the villagers have no choice but to squeeze in any small space available on the bus. To even get their produce to the next Town that offers better opportunities is a dream.
A woman shares her experience on how the area has a huge infestation of deadly snakes. She shares a harrowing experience of how children can be bitten by a snake and just dies on the way to the nearest hospital that is over 50KM away. With lack of infrastructure and health facilities, one will die since help is a dream too far to be achieved. It is already too dark, and we have to drive back to Nairobi. I recollect my day and wonder how on earth we can be so divided yet we all are human beings created to make earth a better place to live in.
Through YES Kenya, we want to be part of the solution. We are extinguishing 1 million Kerosene Lamps from villages like Kitui. Through our model distribution network by the youth, we will create jobs, as we light up rural East Africa. The villages offer many opportunities. Eco Charcoal, Juice Extraction, Preservation and Processing, and many other investment ideas will help rural villagers create opportunities for sustainable livelihoods using locally available resources but integrating a business model. YES Kenya is a basic idea factory for various Value Chains for replication across the continent. We need your support in Reworking the World.
REWORK THE WORLD
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Emmanuel Dennis Ngongo
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