Joseph Karanja is a Kenyan lawyer from Eldoret. Back in April we posted a blog written by his long-time friend, and SolarAid supporter Keith Neal, about solar lights and peace and reconciliation in Western Kenya. We can now give you an update from Joseph directly. This is a truly heart-warming story about the power of light, and people’s desire to strive for a brighter future.
Unfortunately we have been unable to get a photo of Joseph at the time of publishing this blog. We’re hoping one will follow shortly.
By Joseph Karanja
“Eldoret town, the headquarters of Uasin Gishu County in Kenya, is fondly referred to as the Town of Champions. The county is the home of athletes who later in their lives grace major cities, breaking world records in middle and long distance running. Apart from that, Uasin Gishu is now showing the rest of Kenya how to live together.
Between 1992 and 2008, the region was characterised by ethnic strife, mostly during the period of general elections. Today, different communities are living in peace, working together and transforming their lives for the better, thanks to high quality solar lanterns introduced by SolarAid, through one of its volunteers, Keith Neal.
Three years ago an idea started with children from different warring communities living in Kaptagat on the outskirts of Eldoret. By sharing a solar lantern from SolarAid to do their homework, their parents were challenged to initiate honest dialogues. The majority of them had a passionate hatred of each other. The solar light quickly opened their eyes.
“If my children could be invited by those of a person I perceived to be my enemy, to do their evening studies under a solar light, who am I not to give peace a chance?” Those are the words of Jane Wangui, a widow and mother of four. Her neighbour, a member of a different community, used a SunKing Mobile lantern. Jane used a kerosene-burning lantern made from a metal can that emits very dark smoke.
Jane’s children always had itchy eyes, constant headaches and never-ending coughs. Their school performance was not satisfactory at all. One day, her neighbour surprised her by gifting her with a SunKing solar lantern.“Let this gift be the beginning of a journey of peace and transparency,” said Jane’s neighbour as she presented the gift. This has remained a very powerful moment for both of them. Forgiveness and reconciliation had begun.
Today, over 600 families in Uasin Gishu County are active members of this vibrant network that is taking Kenya to a new era of peace and progress. Bishop Francis Bii is the new Team Leader, taking over from the Rev Waweru, who has been transferred to another post.
When people trust each other, huge dividends are reaped. Poverty is reduced as economic activities are enhanced, children’s education runs smoothly and, above all, individual members are fired up to follow their passion. Genuine love and care is being witnessed.The solar lanterns have remained a great symbol as far as this Eldoret-based network is concerned. They have ensured that all their children go to school and the youth kept busy. This holistic approach has been adopted to make sure that communities will not fight each other whatsoever.
Communities in neighbouring counties have actively requested this peace-building model. As a result, the use of solar lanterns is spreading to new areas. Serious activities are taking place in Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot, Laikipia, Nandi and Keiyo Marakwet counties. From 25th to 31st January 2015, twelve people, four from each of the warring communities of Baringo will have a retreat organised by myself. This retreat will be a trust building session and it will take place in MtitoAndei in Makueni, another semi-arid county.
Communities working together are very vital. Solar lanterns are still far beyond the reach of many individual Kenyans. However, communities can more easily and more quickly mobilise the resources needed to buy the SolarAid/SunnyMoney products.
One can only hope that there will be a change of mindset that will bring peace and development. If it has worked in Eldoret it can work elsewhere.”
Joseph and Keith are two shining ambassadors. It’s thanks to people like them, people who have seen first-hand the benefits of solar lights for off-grid communities and are actively doing something about it, that we are have been able to sell 1.5 million solar lights.
They are helping Light the Way to a cleaner, more peaceful, brighter future for countless communities. If you want to Light The Way, click this link to check out all the ways you can get involved.
And don’t forget, the UK government are still DOUBLING all donations. But only until 5th Feb 2015. Act now, don’t be left in the dark.