Powering the Future

Leveraging Solar Energy to Transform a Community

In November 2023, three young women, Diramu Godana (29), Kula Wako (25), and Jilo Kuri (18), from Teltele woreda of Gendhile Kebele, joined forces to establish the Roba Nega business group (BG). Their journey began when they joined the Green REAP project, marking a transformational moment in their lives. Prior to this venture, their livelihoods were anchored in activities such as food preparation for students, and occasional, low-paying farm labor, none of which allowed them to meet the demands of their families and provide adequate education for their children.

Equipped with a newfound sense of purpose and armed with the knowledge gained from the project’s objective and Community-Based Market Assessment training, the Roba Nega BG embarked on a new path. Utilizing their Jump grant fund of 11,033 ETB and leveraging a down payment credit service from CARITAS – energy providing project, they acquired a solar panel. This panel was used to charge mobile phones at a fee and rented out to power households who need it most. The group later diversified their portfolio by venturing into cereal sales as their secondary business.

While it might not look like much, the solar panel located on the roof of the Roba Nega building has literally “turned on the lights” for the entire village. Once without electricity, the solar panel that the group purchased for 20,000 birr (approx. $350 USD) not only serves as the charging station for every phone in the village, but also has the capabilities to power five homes. Before the solar panel was installed, residents would have to walk to the market 25km to charge their phones. Now, for a small fee of 10-20 birr per charge, residents stay up to date on the latest market trends, and have reliable and steady access to communication, information, and their family members. Additionally, for 150 birr per month, a house can be connected to the pane to supply electricity. There are currently five homes connected, with wattage (200 watts) to cover twenty homes. It might not seem like an extraordinary convenience, but for remote villages like this one, the introduction of electricity changes lives. From allowing school work to be done after the sun sets to increased safety and security, simply lighting and reliable smartphone access opens a whole array of new opportunities for individuals and households alike.

Under the guidance of mentors, the Roba Nega Business Group (BG) efficiently allocated roles among themselves, optimizing their operations. Through sheer hard work, mentorship, and strategic planning, they not only saved 43,100 ETB over the half year but also fully repaid the loan for the solar panel, which amounted to 22,400 ETB. Moreover, they established a monthly stipend of 1,000 ETB for themselves, contributing to their households’ welfare and alleviating financial burdens.

This newfound source of livelihood lightened their previous workloads and afforded them precious time to nurture their families and tend to their own farms. Consequently, their overall health has significantly improved, alleviating the adverse health effects of toiling under harsh conditions they were previously accustomed to while preparing meals for students.

Looking ahead, the Roba Nega BG envisions expanding their entrepreneurial endeavors by securing individual loans to integrate beauty salon equiptment into the building, or for ventures such as grocery selling and poultry rearing. Additionally, they aspire to reintegrate their children who had dropped out of school due to financial constraints, providing them with the means to pursue education and secure a brighter future.

As they reflect on their journey, they affirm that even the smallest support can ignite the flames of hope for those striving to overcome adversity, embodying the saying:

“Small support is an energy to rise, like a kid striving to stand up.”