It’s now a few weeks since we made a visit to Nyumbani Village, Kitui County with a part of the team from African Maths Initiative that included Zach, Santiago and Faith. The journey to Nyumbani Village took about 13 hours.
For those of you who might be wondering what sort of village is known as Nyumbani. It is a one of a kind village located in Kitui County in near a small town known as Kwa Vonza which got its name from a missionary known as Alphonce and hence the name Kwa Alphonza (Alphonse’s place). Back to Nyumbani now, it is a village that was built from scratch through the tremendous efforts of Fr Augostino to house orphaned children affected HIV/AIDS and also their grandparents (cucus). It is not a usual orphanage given its innovative institutionalized set up whereby young children (upto 10 kids) stay with their grandmothers (not necessarily blood related). The village houses over 1000 children and up to 1oo cucus with each cucu in charge of one household.
I did not know much about the village but as soon as we set foot there, you could help but realize that there is a vivid difference with other villages I have been to around the country. Kwa Vonza is located about 5 kilometers from the village is connected to the national grid but unfortunately Nyumbani village and its surroundings do not have access to electricity from the national grid. Necessity being the mother of invention, the village has resonated to solar power which it uses for lighting up the village (including “street” lights), power the machines operating in the village hospital, polytechnic as so as other amenities in the village.
As Hosea would tell us as we toured around the village the centre has 216 solar panels that provide the residents with 45.5 Watts of electricity.
But why write about solar energy in this blog? Well, the past few weeks have been all about climate change in Paris whereby international leaders have coalesced to discuss about climate change. One of the emerging debates was about a shift towards renewable sources of energy such as geothermal, wind and solar energy. While launching an International solar alliance India’s prime minister, told a press conference that “Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving,” he said. “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.” He described the solar alliance as “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evening filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun”.
Following through the proceedings of climate change summit reminded me of the visit to Nyumbani. The model adopted by the village highlights key issues brought up by Modi “the dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real”. Indeed, from the look of things, this small village’s dream is becoming more real. In a village setting like that, it wouldn’t be unusual to find the entire village dark given that it is in one of the marginalized and impoverished counties but the harnessing of solar energy has made it possible to light up the village and also power the machines used in the village polytechnic and thus contributing to the building of skills which are greatly emphasized in the Kenyan TEVET policies.
One thing that drew my interest in this visit is the connection between solar energy, education and health. Normally, nations are judged by the quality of education they offer their citizens. One of our main goals of the visit was to introduce the students to new methods of tackling mathematical problems. We wanted to them to approach math from a practical point of view that will help them relate real life problems to mathematics something that we passionately believe needs to be imparted among school going students.
We had also intended to introduce the school to Rachel which they would later use for their lessons in school especially for mathematics and science subjects. Having access to solar electricity makes it possible for Nyumbani Village to adopt this technological mode of teaching which we believe is paramount in this century. Indeed this should be treated as a basic right to every child in schools given that the set of skills they shall be gaining will be paramount in the attainment of Vision 2030 as so the newly formed sustainable development goals.
In June 2015 the Government of Kenya reiterated its commitment to connecting all public institutions to the national grid. Achieving this is key to achieving the above visions. Over 5000 schools have not yet been connected to the national grid and thus missing out on the opportunity presented by technologies such as Rachel. Connecting a big number of these schools with solar power would thus be one way of ensuring that these villages are not left behind as we move forward to attain vision 2030.
Whatever Nyumbani village is doing also falls in line with the sustainable development goals and thus it will be important for us to learn from this village that connecting villages with solar power is doable and achievable enough to power machinery for assembly and manufacturing just like in the case of Nyumbani Village polytechnic. What is needed is greater collaboration between government agencies, bilateral and multi lateral agencies because it also calls for big investment.