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Kenya: the World Cup goes solar in Africa’s largest slum 1

NAIROBI – A small association of Kenyan youths is using the ongoing World Cup to popularize solar energy as a clean, affordable option for Africa’s urban poor.

The youths from the Kibera Community Youth Programme (KYCP), a registered community based organization in Nairobi’s populous Kibera slum, have teamed up with Solafrica – a Swiss-based non-profit organization that campaigns for the adoption of solar technology – to provide a solar powered big screen television set at a public hall where up to 1,000 slum dwellers without televisions or electricity can enjoy the first World Cup staged in Africa without paying a single cent.

Solafrica has christened the initiative the “Solar World Cup” in the hope that it will spark increased interest in the use of solar devices in the slums.

“We want to show the residents of the slums the benefits of solar technology. We want to convince them to adapt to new solar LED technology that will benefit them and their children,” said Solafrica’s Executive Director, Joshiah Ramogi.

According to Ramogi, the organization is especially rooting for the adoption of the solar lamp in place of the widely used kerosene lamp that yields dim light and produces a toxic smoke that predisposes users to respiratory ailments. In very poorly ventilated dwellings, the kerosene lamp poses the further risk of death by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kibera is Africa’s largest slum, located only about fifteen minutes drive from downtown Nairobi. Its population is estimated at about one million, and most of its residents live in mud walled shacks with no electricity, running water or guaranteed tenure.

The “Solar World Cup” comes at a time when African countries are generally ranked among the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, making the continent an unlikely agitator for clean energy.

KYCP was formed eight years ago in 2002. It began working with Solafrica when the Swiss-based organized trained 30 slum youths on how to install solar power systems and make solar lamps at a 2007 workshop in Nairobi. The youngsters embraced the solar project with ardour and their efforts won them the 2007 World Clean Energy Award.

With Solafrica continuing to provide them with technical assistance and additional skills training, their portfolio has expanded to include solar chargers for mobile phones and mini solar panels for radios. Their flagship product has however remained the solar lamp, but as a showcase for their wider portfolio, the big screen TV is powered by another of their products – a compact device they call a “solar power station”.

Although its name sounds sophisticated, the “solar power station” is actually a simple plug-and-go gadget that harnesses energy from the sun without requiring any complex wiring. It is designed for modest households with minimal energy needs like domestic lighting, charging mobile phones and running a few other small devices.

“The solar power station is essentially a box with rechargeable solar batteries,” says KCYP’s Solar Project Manager Elizabeth Otieno in an attempt to describe the gadget in the simplest terms.

Apart from producing and selling solar devices, the youths also install solar power systems in homes and institutions at a fee. Last year for instance they installed solar power at the now famous home in Western Kenya where US President Barack Obama’s 88 year old grandmother lives.

By Philip EmaseNews From Africa

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi