In April of 2017 Solar Village Project Vice President Mike Varhola traveled to Senegal and implemented 11 full scale projects. Below is Mike’s story.
Our second trip to Senegal was a great success and a quantum leap over the previous year. In 2016, we distributed 65 solar units to one village. This year, we distributed over 2300 units to eleven villages, providing not just safe and healthful light, but also the ability to charge cell phones. Possibly of equal importance, we laid a solid foundation for 2018 by developing relationships with four NGOs.
Before I go on I would be remiss if I did not first thank Fortesa International and all its devoted employees. It is an understatement to say that we could not have done this without Fortesa. Fortesa picked up the lanterns at the port of Dakar, stored them for us, and provided a vehicle and a driver. The driver, the intrepid Amad Ba, ultimately evolved into my partner. He overcame every obstacle, some of which were the rough terrain and almost non-existent roads.
Below is a picture of me and Amad at Fortesa HQ and also our storage facility at Ngadiaga and location of our first round of projects in the Littoral. Those who are into such things may know that the Paris-Dakar Rally traversed this area.
Helpful hands at Ngadiaga.
Tried and true. They use to say, “Get a horse!” Still good advice in some places
Why horses are the preferred means of travel in the Littoral
The first village and very hard living for the inhabitants. It is just sand. As you can see, we distributed three different kinds of lanterns, two of which could charge cell phones. The third had the benefit of being virtually indestructible and lasting about five years.
Our corporate sponsor Nuera Solar sent along some t shirts for the kids
Below is Diabate explaining the process to the villagers. Diabate is our local coordinator. He is an employee of Fortesa, our in-country sponsor. We do a cluster of villages around Fortesa’s field HQ. Everybody in the area knows Diabate. Fortesa also maintains a small clinic where it treats villagers for minor ailments at no charge. I think you can get the sense that the Atlantic Ocean is just over the next dune.
You can see the joy and gratitude. How can people support themselves in this environment?
We took every opportunity we could to tout Nuera Solar, our new corporate sponsor. We are building a scaleable structure in Senegal, so as we get more funds, we will service more villages. The need is endless. We want to focus on the more remote villages, like these in the littoral, that probably will not get connected to the electrical grid for decades.
I have come to believe that one of the best ways to improve lives in Senegal is through education. The government provides schools, but most children in the villages do not attend. I do not know all the reasons, but I know that lack of light to study by is one of them. The Solar Village Project is not only improving the current quality of life, it is also helping the children build their future. One of our goals next year is to give each student his/her own solar lantern in addition to those we provide the households.
One of the students in Cisse Mass. He is holding one of the solar lights we are considering for purchase for 2018 – specifically for students.
I love to see the joy that these solar lanterns are bringing to the children. You just can’t imagine what it is like to live in almost total darkness for about 12 out of every 24 hours.
For me, Senegal is all about the remote villages and the sparse country-side. The people are unfailingly hospitable, sometimes pensive, pious, proud, and fundamentally cheerful and optimistic. Here are a few pictures that I hope at least sort of capture what I am trying to convey.
The long-term sustainability of the Solar Village Project
Senegal will depend to a great extent on the partnerships we have developed
there. Each one enlarges our footprint while increasing the impact each
dollar donated. I would like you to know a bit about each of them:
1. Fortesa International Senegal provides our logistical support in-country. It provides
us with room and board in Dakar, plus a vehicle and a driver. It also picks
up the lanterns at the port and stores them until we arrive.
2. Nuera Solar has partnered with the Solar Village Project to improve the lives of people around the
world. For every customer who chooses to install a solar system with Nuera,
a family in Africa or India, will receive the gift of solar power. We expect
as this partnership matures, SVP will reap significant financial benefits
that will enable us to further grow and expand our operations. See also
3. Tostan is an important NGO in Senegal and
we are proud to be partnering with them in delivering solar lights to remote
villages. Among other things, Tostan will be identifying villages in remote
areas, some hundreds of miles from Dakar, and acting as our agent in
transporting and distributing the solar lights there.
4. Londoo Looloo is in the Casamance, which is separated from the main part of
Senegal by Gambia and the Gambia River. Mamadou Ben Cisse, our contact
there, has agreed to come to us to pick up the solar lights for the villages
Londoo Looloo serves. This again enlarges our footprint because the
Casamance is just too far for us to travel. If you scroll down the Londoo
Looloo Facebook page, you will see pictures of Ben distributing our solar
lanterns to the villagers.
5. APROFES is the Association http://www.wluml.org/contact/wrrc/content/association-pour-la-promotion-de-la-femme-s%C3%A9n%C3%A9galaise-aprofes-association-advan
for the Promotion of the Senegalese Women. Among other things, it seeks to
advance women economically. Solar lighting can be critical to this by
allowing women to engage in cottage industries after the sun goes down. We
gave APROFES a case of lanterns when we were in Kaolack in April so that it
could explore the best ways to distribute and utilize them in the course of
their normal operations.
6. FIAD is the International Foundation for Development Support. The
founder and president is Khady Faye, who asked us to provide solar lights to
the remote village of Ndiamsil. We did that, thereby completing a project
that Khady had started a few years ago but did not have the resources to
complete. FIAD has several other villages that it would like us to provide
lanterns to. We would like to do that if we have the resources.