Changing lives through solar-powered lamps

More on how UNICEF in Burundi works to empower communities through renewable energy

By Zineb Boujrada
Solidarity group weekly meeting at the village.
UNICEF Burundi/2018/Zineb Boujrada
13 January 2020

Makamba, Burundi - In Burundi, only 2 per cent of rural population have access to electricity against 54,1 per cent in urban areas. As a result, the majority of households rely on single biomass fuels, such as wood, coal and kerosene, to meet their cooking and lighting needs.

These unsustainable sources of energy have a negative impact on all aspects of children's lives and on their immediate environment such as eye-related diseases, poor school performance, respiratory problems and deforestation. The “Project Lumière”, is designed to diminish energy poverty by providing rural communities with a reliable, clean and sustainable energy source through introduction of rechargeable solar lamps.

Community based solidarity groups known locally as Nawe Nuze groups are the backbone of this programme. Nawe Nuze groups are a savings and credit association whose members contribute an agreed sum on a weekly basis which is pooled together to invest in an income generating activity and to provide micro credit to members. UNICEF has partnered with a National NGO to sell solar charging units and lamps to Nawe Nuze groups at a subsidized fee, the groups in turn charge the solar lamps at a fee of 300BIF or 0.15usd which then becomes a source of revenue for the group. This additional income is circulated to support group members and other vulnerable children in their community. There are currently 236 groups participating in this programme that has directly benefited 12245 households.

5 solidarity groups in Kinoso Hill collaborated to procure solar charging stations and lamps. With a total of 134 members including 86 women and 48 men, they succeeded in acquiring their first solar panel in December 2018. Today, these groups have been able to sell the lamps to 93 households and members are confident that this innovation has positively impacted their daily lives especially they no longer need to spend 400 BIF (0,22$) per day to buy a candle.

Members like Godberte Barayampunda, bought their first solar-powered lamp with a loan of 5000 BIF (2,75$). In her words: ‘’ my children can study well now and uninterruptedly thanks to the practicality of the lamp. I also use it to cook food and I do not have to use wood for fire as light anymore’’.

For Isaac Nihorimbere, a 21 years-old high secondary student, his school grades have improved by 10 per cent since his parents brought the solar-powered lamp home. He explains: ‘before, I used to have to buy a candle for 400 BIF (0,22 $), and it would expire within 2 – 3 hours. With the lamp, my parents spend only 300 BIF (0,16 $) to recharge it weekly. They are now saving more, I have enough light to finish my homework and my grades have greatly increased ever since.’’

Isaac unboxes an LDE lamp
UNICEF Burundi/2019/Zineb Boujrada

Thanks to funding from the German Fund, UNICEF was able to provide NGOs like FVS-Amade with necessary tools to conduct capacity building trainings, and to provide additional services for children. The ability of children like Nadia and Isaac to go to school, do their homework and do well has been tremendously enhanced in line with UNICEFs commitment to ensure that no child is left behind.  

In rural areas of Burundi, a very small percentage of all households have access to the electricity grid, resulting in a high reliance on other sources of energy such as wood, batteries and kerosene. These sources are costly, inefficient, unhealthy and not friendly for the environment. The use of energy is an important indicator of the welfare level of a household, a village and an entire country. Through Project Lumière, the UNICEF office in Burundi seeks to contribute to lessening energy poverty by empowering communities with a reliable, clean and sustainable energy source. By implementing the project via a social enterprise model, the intervention aims to leverage the demand for an efficient power source and create a chain of mutually reinforcing social and economic impacts. Access to clean energy technology enhances energy efficiency at household level and provides economic opportunity for the involved communities.

Through this project, the UNICEF office in Burundi addresses energy poverty by introducing rechargeable lamps in villages not connected to the national electricity grid. UNICEF continues to work with FVS-AMADE in selling solar charging units and lamps to Nawe Nuze groups at a subsidized fee, the groups in turn charge the solar lamps at a fee of 300BIF or 0.15usd which then becomes a source of revenue for the group.

The solidarity group with their collectively owned solar panel.
UNICEF Burundi/2019/Zineb Boujrada

The project carries a myriad of benefits at both the household and community level, including reduced indoor air pollution and lower risk of burns and eye problems, to extended study time for children and working hours for adults, to improved safety for women and children. By offering a cheaper alternative to traditional energy sources, the project also allows households to save up to 80 per cent of their average energy expenditure while introducing a steady revenue stream into the community. From an environmental standpoint, Project Lumiere lowers household dependence on kerosene and wood, which in turn reduces carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation rates. According to recent estimates, approximately 83 per cent of households targeted by the project have stopped using kerosene lamps in favor of rechargeable LED lights.

Project Lumiere was launched in September 2013 with 14 community groups. This number has grown steadily to 236 groups participating in this programme that has directly benefited 12245 households.