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A girl’s dream to light up manyattas becomes reality

Janet Yiamoi used to visit her rural home during holidays and experienced how lack of power was making life difficult for residents. She decided to change things

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Janet Yiamoi, 31, was brought up in an urban setting,  but her parents used to take her and her siblings to their rural village at Bisil, Kajiado county every school holiday.                                       

During the visits she would endure a month or so of itching eyes because the only available power in manyattas was kerosene lamps. Many  households from the Maa community have been in this situation for long. However, things have been changing slowly since introduction of electricity in most villages. Not all of them have been connected for various reasons.

This is why Janet decided to start a local community-based organisation, in 2013, which seeks to provide renewable energy solutions to pastoral and other marginalised communities.

Dubbed Lighting Manyattas Initiative (Lima), the organisation seeks to provide sustainable energy answers tailored to specific needs of the communities in Kenya and beyond, whether in lighting, cooking or any other activity that requires energy.

“The idea of providing sustainable energy was borne when I was still a small girl. This is because I used to watch the struggles my friends went through when reading and I decided that when I grow up I would do something to help the marginalised community,” said Janet.

Even though she didn’t know which kind of solutions she could offer, early 2013 she came across a solar lantern in her line of duty and realised it could be the solution to the lighting problem in the area.

However, another problem arose when she was ready to distribute her first batch of 90 lanterns. She didn’t know what criterion to use. Initially, she wanted to give to women, but another idea came up and she decided to be giving them to primary and secondary school candidates.

“This is because their need for better lighting was more urgent than others. Our aim is to see performance in school improve,” she says.

And to ensure all those who get the lanterns deserve them, she works closely with community elders and leaders to identify the beneficiaries. Since not everyone could get the lanterns, she connects those who would like and are able to purchase the lanterns on their own to entrepreneurs in that area.

‘Solar entrepreneurs’ are selected by the community based on their passion to earn an extra source of income. These entrepreneurs are trained on various business skills and eventually end up having businesses in their own villages.

“Apart from giving lanterns, we also mentor the children. The initiative is evolving and we would like to be connecting the students with sponsors to ensure that they continue with their secondary and college education after passing their examination,” she says.

Since she gives the lanterns for free, she relies on well-wishers to fund the initiative and she has been partnering with corporates.

So far, 810 manyattas have been lit in four counties—Kajiado, Narok, Isiolo and Marsabit and an estimated 3,240 children are benefitting from the intitiative. The unique thing about the initiative is that they distribute the lanterns during holidays so as to get as many students as possible.

“We want to ensure that all manyattas are lit. There are approximately 800,000 manyattas and each one uses an average of two litres of kerosene per month. If all these manyattas start using solar lanterns then the climate change mitigation effect would be enormous,” she says.

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