230 million students around the world attend schools without electricity. Once at home, the reality is the same. When the sun sets, everything goes dark. No opportunity to study. No opportunity to dream of a brighter future. Rhoda Unyolo, 14, from Kanyera Village in Dedza District, Malawi knows these struggles all too well.
Rhoda enjoys spending her evenings at home with her parents and her three siblings. She likes to read and dream about her future. She especially enjoys reading her favourite book, ‘The Yawning, the Catching’. “I like the book because it says when you see a friend yawn, you should also yawn,” says Rhoda.Although she enjoys studying and reading, before the Light Library came to her school, she was struggling and had to repeat a semester.
By the dim light of a battery powered torch, Rhoda struggled with schoolwork. Her home was too dark to study in as most of the time there was little money to buy batteries. Rhoda’s mum, Judith Unyolo explained, “We don’t have electricity in this area. What we normally do is buy torch batteries. We even struggle to find money for the batteries.”
“We could buy a torch and battery cells for lighting at night, but the light was difficult. Sometimes it happened that we had no money for batteries and I stayed without studying,” Rhoda says.
Money in the household has been scarce and there have been times when there was not enough for food. “The challenge I experience is to feed the children each and every day. I do piecework in order to reduce hunger issues in our house, and so that we don’t face hunger in the future,” says Judith.
But recently, things in the Unyolo household began to change. A renewed hope shined on the family. A Light Library with solar lights brought by SolarAid and books brought by Book Aid International was introduced at her school.
Now, Rhoda is able to use a solar light to read and study long into the evening and her family is no longer wasting a substantial part of their income on batteries for their torch. Her dreams of helping other people who are suffering seem in reach, ”Once I finish school, I want to work as a nurse. I want to be a nurse because I admire when I see nurses taking care of the sick. I also want to care for the sick,” Rhoda says and continues, “I think that education will help me a lot. I work very hard at school so that I won’t struggle to go into the nursing profession.”
Rhoda’s mum, Judith, is proud of Rhoda’s decision. When she was young, she had to drop out of school because her family couldn’t afford it. Now she is earning money from irrigation farming and also finding piecework where she can. Her determination drives the family forward so Rhoda can reach her dream of becoming a nurse.
“I am happy with that because it is what she really wants to do. We also ask people who do the same work in this area. We ask questions like what is involved in the nursing programme, and that amount of cash (…) We’ll try to farm and harvest enough crops so that we can sell them and receive cash for her to do the nursing programme.”
Judith continues, “We want to work hard on the farm so that our ignorance isn’t passed on to our children. We have to help them with their education so that they have a bright future. I often explain to them how I see life. If they don’t go to school they will be like me, and I don’t know what they could achieve in life.”
“I give her a chance to study while I do the household chores. I cannot force her to do chores while I am available. I think it is important that she performs school tasks. I cannot bother her with chores because even if she studies, she won’t remember the information properly because I have burdened her with chores,” continues Judith.
“The chance to borrow books and lights has improved my performance because I always take the first position in exams.”
Rhoda frequently borrows solar lights, and is already noticing the difference, “Even writing in English is not a problem because I read English books (…) When I borrow a book and a solar light from the library, I study at home. I study at home because here at school some people make noise, and I can’t understand the information when people are making noise. I usually read after eating dinner.”
When she is not reading at home, Rhoda enjoys studying together with her friend Tereza Gamula, who is helping her, “I normally ask her about previous topics and she explains to me. After she explains it to me, I explain it back to her. If I can explain it correctly then I know that I have understood,” says Rhoda.
Judith is proud of her daughter, “Her school is going well. Last year things were not good for her. We tried to encourage her but she complained that she couldn’t understand anything (…) The children have improved performance since they started using the books and lights. This term they receive better grades. That is how I know that they have improved.”
Now the whole family is benefitting from the solar light, “Apart from studying, we use the solar lights to identify things in the house. Sometimes we just put the light in the house so that people don’t struggle when they want to find something.” says Rhoda.
“In that way, we just enter the house because light is already available.”
Judith is also enjoying the light and books when she has time, “If I didn’t do any farm work, I like to read the books which my children bring from school. I also ask Rhoda to explain the things she learnt at school. The coming of the solar light is something to be thankful for.”
Access to light and books allows children to wander off into a land of imagination, it powers their dreams and hopes for the future.