Portable solar lights as a tool for peace building and land restoration

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Joseph Karanja (R) Presenting Solar Lamps at the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, 2015
Joseph Karanja (R) Presenting Solar Lamps at the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, 2015

Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa. This can be attributed to the relative peace and stability that the country has enjoyed, making it the refuge of choice by many people who have fled from other war torn countries in the region. Eldoret town is 320 kilometres west of Nairobi. It is a home to almost all the 42 ethnic communities of Kenya. The town has in the last two decades been the epicentre of violence, especially during the general elections. The 2007 post-election violence was the worst to have ever hit Kenya. It left deep divisions, especially between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities. In every conflict land has been the main issue, and it has been exploited by politicians to divide the communities further. Today, Eldoret is the place where everybody is going to learn how communities that were once divided are living in peace and working together to raise their living standards. A lot of work, pain, tears and resources have brought Eldoret to where it is.

“Let’s turn the light on ourselves and see where we need to change”

One such initiative is a solar project inspired by Keith Neal and Joseph Karanja. What started as a campaign to eradicate the kerosene lamp by 2020, became a huge symbol of unity and reconciliation. A group of women embraced the high quality SolarAid/SunnyMoney solar lights almost three years ago. “Let’s turn the light on ourselves and see where we need to change,” said one of the women. This set into motion a series of apologies and great stories of reconciliation. Men and youth joined in, vowing ‘never again in Eldoret will communities maim and kill each other over land and politics.’

Today over 600 hundred people from all communities are using portable solar lights to care for each other. Land, which has been a major source of conflict, is now regarded as a God-given heritage that must be protected and used well for the sake of future generations. The group pulls resources together to buy more lights, and to generate capital for small businesses. The idea has now spread to neighbouring counties. According to Retired Chief Maiyo Kipserem of Kapseret, Eldoret, there has been a huge drop in the use of firewood in areas where these lights are widely used. Firewood is generally used both for cooking and lighting. Many families are witnessing increased incomes, mainly through savings on kerosene and charging mobile phones. The savings are used for education and other beneficial needs. Many people are now using gas for cooking as opposed to charcoal and kerosene. The group is determined to work for a better life for future generations. Many are now conscious of the need to protect the environment and for every activity to be environmentally-friendly. Many groups from other parts of Kenya are learning from the example set in Eldoret. The future is promising.

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