Lighting up lives

Solar lamps support education in Burundi's rural areas

Jean-Sacha Barikumutima
Félicita learning in front of solar lamp beside her mother
06 August 2021

Bugendana, Burundi -  "Mom and I lived a very hard life. Every day, I helped her with the house chores and the work in the fields. Without light at home, I couldn’t do my homework at night," says Félicita Nessora Manirakiza, 16. "Now that we have a solar lamp, things are so much easier!  This year, I ranked 8th in the class and will pass to the next grade" she says with pride.   

Félicita and her 3 brothers are the only surviving children of a family of seven. She lives with her mother, Probe Rwankineza, in Gitega, a central province of Burundi. Two brothers died when they were barely a month old because of horrible prenatal conditions. Her older sister was murdered at age seven, during a rebel attack in 2005. After the attack, her father had to flee and disappear, never to return home.    

Despite growing up in an extremely poor family, Félicita was still able to enroll in school. "As I was not able to send all my children to school, I put Félicita in school and my three older boys went to the city to look for work in the hope of being able to help me," says Félicita's mother.

Mother holding solar lamp

Félicita's family was fortunate to benefit from the support of the community. The chief of the village and local authorities included her among the beneficiaries of the Project Lumiere, which promotes community solidarity for vulnerable households and provides solar lamps to households without access to electricity. "I finally joined the Nawe Nuze solidarity group and the members were very supportive," says Félicita's mother.   

The solidarity group has supported the household on several occasions. Members helped Felicita’s family rebuild their house when it was damaged by fire and plowed her fields when she was sick. She was also granted a small loan, which allowed her to purchase a solar lamp.    

In the village of Nntinda, out of 300 vulnerable households like Félicita’s, 61 families were able to purchase rechargeable solar lamps thanks to loans from their solidarity groups. Not only do they light up the village at night, they also provide good learning conditions for children like Félicita, who remain the only hope for a better life for their mothers: "When I think of my future, I think of my daughter. I want her to study and be blessed by God. Maybe she will be able to make it through, have a better life and help us in return," Félicita's mother says.   
Since 2019, 21,000 vulnerable children from 3239 families, including Felicita and her family, now have access to sustainable lighting thanks to the Project Lumiere, implemented by UNICEF and funded with the support of the German Committee for UNICEF.

By Jean-Sacha Barikumutima – Communication Officer, UNICEF Burundi