Mike Varhola and Papa Drame recently returned from implementing our first project Solar Village Project in Senegal. The Cisse Masse Solar Village Project. This is the story of their journey written by Mike.
Our first effort was picking up the solar units from the vendor in Dakar. Our first glitch was they would not all fit in the SUV. Our driver, Amad, was a hero. He dropped us off in Cisse Mass with the units and then made the four plus hour trip back to Dakar for the second load. He was back before we finished breakfast the next morning.
Here we are loading up in Dakar.
After we unloaded, we walked around the village and spoke with the villagers until dark.
Thanks to Amad we had all 70 units by 9:00 a.m. the next morning. We were directed to the village meeting spot (under a shady tree) where we would meet with the village leaders and then issue the solar units.
Mustapha, who is Papa’s cousin, was extremely helpful. You can see him in red in the front left. Here he his discussing the operation of the solar units.
Papa explained the assembly of the units.
The main event, of course, was actually distributing the solar units. Each household head signed for the unit(s) based on the size of the household. We numbered each unit for accountability purposes and gave each household head an indelible marker so he could distinctively mark his own unit. We also gave Mustapha a bunch of SVP stickers to apply to each unit.
Mustapha in red behind Papa on the right. He is our representative for Cisse Masse and the surrounding area.
While Papa and I were visiting villages in the area for next year’s mission, the villagers had the afternoon to set up their solar units and charge the batteries. Some batteries still had some charge in them and some did not, which is to say they needed another day to charge.
It was dark when we got back, and I did not recognize Cisse Mass. There were lights everywhere. Even the mosque was lit up.
The next morning we left Cisse Masse and returned to Dakar. This is the team that made it happen. From left to right: Papa Makhtar Drame, Mustapha Cisse, me and our invaluable driver and Colleauge, Amad Ly.
After resting for a day we set out to survey more villages 30 or 40 miles north of Dakar on the edge of the Littoral. This is a sandy area bordering the Atlantic – basically sand dunes and beaches. Sounds nice maybe for a beach home, but for farming villages it is less nice. We would also like to provide solar units to villages in this area, and that poses a different challenge.
It is very difficult to access, because there are few paved roads through the sand, and even a four-wheel drive vehicle cannot get through. We found that out the hard way. So we walked.
The households are configured a bit differently in the Littoral. We saw no walled compounds like there are in Cisse Masse. Rather you would see two or three dwellings like you see below. These would not be part of a compact village as the next set of houses would be a few hundred yards away.
In the picture below you can see open water wells. These wells are each about 20 to 25 meters deep. They pull water by hand for their crops. What they are growing are green onions for export. In the future Solar Village Projects will also install Solar Water Pumps in the villages we work with. This will remove the need for open air wells resulting in cleaner water and less manual labor for farming.
In the end not only was our first project in Senegal a big success but we also managed to survey multiple villages for future projects. Many villages in Senegal lack access to electricity and we are looking forward to helping resolve that problem one village at time.