Evans Wadongo - Light it up

Evans Wadongo: a leading light

Posted on 14 May 2014.

Evans Wadongo’s “Use Solar, Save Lives” project has transformed families’ day-to-day lives and the prospects of children in his community.

At just 28 years old, he has already been named one of the “Top 10 CNN Heroes” of 2010 by the well-known US news channel. Quite a feat for the young Kenyan, a computer and electronic engineer, who came up with the idea for “Use Solar, Save Lives,” a project directly inspired by his own experiences.

Wadongo harnesses the potential of solar energy

“What counts is not the number of lamps we distribute but how many lives we can change.”

In a country where access to healthcare, food and water is a daily challenge, 50% of the population lives below the poverty line and no fewer than 84% have no access to electricity. As a result, families who can afford it use kerosene for lighting. These were the conditions in which Evans and his four brothers were educated. Like other children in his village, there were times when he was unable to do his homework simply because there was no light, and was then punished by his teachers. Many pupils abandoned their studies as a consequence. Evans, however, had the opportunity to study at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, where he found out about solar lamps. Although they were already being sold in Kenya, they were often hard to come by, particularly in rural areas. It was then that the student had an idea that would radically transform the life of his community: rather than importing them and selling them to people when the majority could not afford them, the lamps would be made locally using on recycled materials. Evans went on to design the MwangaBora (“Good light” in Swahili), a solar lamp that looks set to revive the local economy and more besides.

Economic development: a state of mind

As the young man points out, it is difficult to bring about a significant change in the economic situation of a country where individuals are already struggling to feed themselves. Yet if “you encourage someone’s material and moral independence, you also encourage their motivation and determination.” That is the whole point of MwangaBora lamps, which have helped to improve living standards in a very simple way: Wadongo used donations to distribute lamps to residents, who then saved money on buying kerosene. The young man then encouraged them to invest the money they had saved in local micro-enteprises (some of which manufacture the MwangaBora), creating a virtuous circle that has proved a resounding success.

In 2011, Wadongo launched “Just One Lamp,” a massive campaign aimed at the international community to raise funds for his project and export the idea to other emerging countries.
In recent years, he has received numerous awards in the United States, South Africa and Great Britain, where Esquire Magazine even included him in its list of “20 men who will shape the next 20 years.” Alongside his work with the SDFA-Kenya (Sustainable Development For All-Kenya) foundation, he lectures regularly throughout Europe, slowly but surely revolutionizing the initiatives usually implemented in developing countries, and recalling that “What counts is not the number of lamps we distribute but how many lives we can change”.

Learn more :

- The MIT Technology Review
- The Friedman Benda’s gallery website
- An idea that lights up the world: Evans Wadongo at TEDxCibeles
- Faces of Africa - Wadongo's Little Lamp

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