Solar lights don’t just replace dirty, unhealthy kerosene lamps. You may have read in earlier blogs how solar lights are being used as tools for promoting peace and development amongst bitterly-divided communities.
This novel approach, introduced in 2013 by Joseph Karanja in his home-town of Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, started with just 14 families. In 2017, the 3,000 members of what has come to be known as the Solar for Peace Initiative (SPI), come from nearly 900 families and are active in 16 out of the 47 self-governing counties of Kenya.
Solar light, a powerful symbol of peace in African culture, has catalyzed some remarkable changes within local communities. Reconciliation between people embroiled in personal and/or tribal divisions has been the key to some impressive social, educational and economic development.
In November 2016, the SPI spent two lively weeks in Eldoret for thanksgiving, celebration and learning. Ms. Evelyn Chebet, the current chairperson of the initiative, travelled from Makutano, West Pokot county, to receive over 40 guests from across Kenya. Participants learnt best practices in business and agriculture. Leading educationists facilitated clinics for students. Personal stories of change and forgiveness were shared daily.
Ms. Chebet gave the following statistics:
- 3,000 people, including children, from 900 families have joined SPI.
- 12,000 solar lights have been acquired by the initiative in the last 4 years. The aim is to eliminate people’s dependence on expensive, unhealthy kerosene.
- 1,800 people have become gainfully employed through various activities initiated by members.
- 288 children under the direct care of individual members at the end of 2012 were not being educated. Many had been displaced and/or orphaned in the 2008 violence. The members of SPI collectively undertook to pay their fees and get them into school.
- In 2017 only 11 students are currently financed by SPI as a whole – 9 in High School and 2 at university. The reduction from 288 to 11 in the number of children/students being supported by SPI can be attributed to the greatly improved economic conditions of the members responsible for them.
- 17 students have graduated from college. They comprise 1 medical doctor, 3 electrical engineers, 6 teachers, 1 pharmacist, 1 nurse, and 5 business management graduates.
- 80,000 trees have been planted by members in the last 3 years. They are currently involved in the preservation of Kaptagat Forest, Cherangany, and Mount Elgon and Mau water towers. Members’ Birthdays are celebrated by the planting of trees.
- 600 acres of land for agriculture have been leased for members in different parts of Kenya. Many were born in forest areas and worked on the land, but through violence and ethnic animosity were displaced and forced to live in urban slums. Now, most members have returned to their lifelong passion for farming.
SPI raised money to lease land and keep these members employed. A few have managed to buy land of their own. The produce from farming is normally sold directly to the market, avoiding brokers and the risk of exploitation.
The next General Election in Kenya is due on 8 th August 2017. The Solar for Peace Initiative is currently involved in a Clean Election Campaign all over Kenya. Volunteers are urging Kenyans to shun bribery, violence and other electoral malpractices, before and during the entire electioneering period. The solar light symbol constantly reminds us that change starts with us, once we point the light in our own lives. Once we care for each other, our burdens become lighter. This is what Solar for Peace Initiative wants to showcase to all humanity.
Evelyn Chebet, Chairperson – Solar for peace initiative
Joseph Karanja, Coordinator – Solar for peace initiative
Edited by: Keith Neal