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Scrap collectors give koroboi lamp some swag

Crispine Onayo and Simon Ngare make green laterns from discarded tins. Their product does not emit smoke, making it eco-friendly

Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy

Discarded coffee tins and old cocoa cans stashed in a room look like one big mess; but this depends on who you ask.

In Crispine Onayo and Simon Ngare’s eyes the heap of tins is a treasure they use to make a living in Bondeni slums in Nakuru county.

They are converting the cans to small home-made lanterns with bulbs, providing an alternative to the locals in the area who mainly rely on kerosene for their lighting.

With no background in electrical engineering, for more than five years now, the duo has made over 50,000 homemade lanterns, which they have sold to locals. The lantern uses batteries to light up.

According to Ngare, they started collecting scrap materials to earn a living and after some time started tinkering with the tins to see what could come out of it. They made their first lantern in 2013.

He says in Bondeni slums less than 30 per cent of residents have access to electricity, adding that most of them use kerosene lanterns famously known as koroboi.

Ngare says  they decided to innovate the battery lanterns because fumes emitted by the kerosene lamps and lanterns can cause respiratory diseases.

“I stay in Bondeni and not all people are connected to electricity, most of the residents use kerosene lamps and lanterns for lighting, whose smoke is harmful. We decided to innovate something that would be environment-friendly and cheap for the locals,” says Ngare.

Onayo attributes the massive upgrade of the koroboi to extensive research. Even in homes with one or two ceiling bulbs, Onayo says the light often flickers off soon after sunset due to power cuts that plunge most of the slum areas into darkness.

He says kerosene lamps and lanterns cause most slum fires. “None of us has studied electrical engineering, it is pure research and commitment, we want to make Bondeni environment-friendly and that means getting rid of the kerosene lamps,” says Onayo.

The lantern-making process begins with scrubbing off dirt from the used cans. Onayo designs the shapes, cuts and then welds it before Ngare does the wiring process.

The lanterns are sold at Sh250 a piece and can give light for up to a month without requiring a new battery. On a good day, the duo can make up to Sh7,000 depending on the designs.

The family of Jane Kimathi, who had for decades depended on the koroboi lamps, says they have embraced the innovation and have now shifted to using the new battery lantern. She says  many of residents were reluctant to acknowledge the innovation, adding that they regarded the products as unsafe since it has not been tested by the  Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

“We were reluctant to purchase the products since most of us  did not believe they are safe because they have not been tested by Kebs. However, residents have started embracing them and are buying the products,” says Kimathi.

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