A wonderful lamp

In the remote hills of southern Burundi, access to electricity through solar energy has changed people’s lives

By Donaig Le Du
Nadia Kampimbare is looking at her school lessons wearing the solar lamp
UNICEF Burundi/2019/Le Du
13 January 2020

Makamba, Burundi - ''I used to be scared to go to the toilet at night'', says Nadia Kampimbare. The 9-year-old girl lives in Nonge, a village in Makamba province, in southern Burundi, near the Tanzanian border.

The village has no electricity and from 6.30 pm it is completely dark. Candles and batteries for torches are too expensive for families that struggle to make ends meet from farming cassava, bananas and working as casual laborers in nearby coffee plantations.

Nadia’s life has changed dramatically early in 2019 when the family was able to purchase a solar lamp subsidized by UNICEF, through the “Project Lumière”, a programme designed to diminish energy poverty by providing rural communities with a reliable, clean and sustainable energy source through introduction of rechargeable solar lamps.

 “Project Lumiere was launched in September 2013 with Community based saving groups (known locally as Nawe Nuze) as the primary drivers of this initiative. UNICEF working with 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” says Dan Rono, head of Child Protection at UNICEF Burundi.  We started with 14 Nawe Nuze groups and now 236 groups participate in this programme that has directly benefited 12245 households”. 

Few women in the village gather around the solar panel to recharge their solar-powered lamps
UNICEF Burundi/2019/Le Du
Few women in the village gather around the solar panel to recharge their solar-powered lamps.

I used to be scared to go to the toilet at night

Nadia Kampimbare, 9 years-old

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. A percentage of the groups income is set aside to help the poorest children among the community through, payment of school or medical fees for example.

Currently, only 3 per cent of the population in Burundi has access to the national electricity grid. As a result, the vast majority of the country is reliant on firewood for energy and kerosene lamps for lighting. Solar lighting was quickly adopted by communities and Nawe Nuze groups have provided access to solar lamps at a subsidized price.

The impact of this programme goes beyond a cleaner environment.  “I used to pay 1,200 BIF for my lamp’s batteries every week’’, says Emelyne Niyokwizera, a mother of six. ‘’Now I charge my solar lamp once a week, I have more money left to provide for my children.”

Little Nadia does not only use the lamp when she needs to go to the bathroom at night. In fact, she uses it to do her homework, once she has finished she helps her cares for little sisters and helps mother with household chores.

Emelyne Niyokwizera
UNICEF Burundi/2019/Le Du
Emelyne Niyokwizera, a mother of six, lives on Nonge hill, in Burundi's southern Makamba Province. She is a member of a solidarity group named "Tabari Funzi" (save the oprhans in kirundi. She has owned a solar lamp since early 2019? "Before I would spend 1200 FBI (0.65) on batteries for torches every week, now I charge the solar lamp for 300 FBI ( 0.16 US$) once a week.

“There is another great thing about this lamp'', says Emelyne.  ''Some people used to have petrol lamps; it was dangerous, they could spill over or fall and set the houses on fire. This one, you put it on your forehead, it can’t fall, and your hands are free to do whatever you need to do’’.