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Small LED device piloted to empower women and power rural communities in Burundi

Learn how bicycle-powered 'Nuru' LED lights, part of a pilot programme, can bring safe and affordable lighting, as well as opportunities for economic enterprise, to vulnerable groups.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Suzanne Beukes

A little LED device called Nuru is being piloted to power homes and empower women, in Burundi.

GITEGA PROVINCE, Burundi, 8 October 2013 – In the blistering mid-morning heat, Pedro Guerra, a UNICEF child protection specialist, and Leonard Ndirahisha, a coordinator for Burundian NGO FVS Amade, trail up and down the collines – hills – of Gitega province in central Burundi. They are on a mission to collect feedback about the portable LED lights they have given to various households to test. The experiment is part of a pilot project to bring safe and affordable light to rural families.

They arrive at 20-year-old Valérie Manirakiza’s home. She is resting under a banana tree. She feels under the weather because of a new bout with malaria, but she rises to express how elated she is about the light. “I could go outside without a worry last night,” she says. “Even a child was using the light to study last night.”

© UNICEF Video
A bicycle-powered LED light is used in Gitega province. Called Nuru, meaning 'to brighten' in Swahili, the lights can help poor families in rural areas who lack access to electricity.

Safe, affordable energy

A study was conducted by UNICEF with the University of Burundi on how Burundians use energy. As a result of years of war and underinvestment in infrastructure, a meagre 3 per cent of people living in Burundi have access to the electricity grid. The rest of the 8.5 million people, most of whom are living in extreme poverty in rural areas, are forced to source their own energy and light.

Families must travel to purchase energy and charge their mobile phones. They spend a large proportion of their income on energy. “On average, we found that a family who may earn little over a dollar a day is spending up to 10,000 Burundian francs [about US$5] on kerosene and other energy sources per month,” says Mr. Guerra. These forms of power come with such risks as exposure to unhealthy smoke in homes and eye problems, especially for children.

The portable LED light pilot project is one of the lighting options being explored by UNICEF and partners to address the limited access to power in Burundi and the lack of lighting in villages.

The light, which goes by the name of Nuru – to brighten, in Swahili – is similar in structure and functionality to a battery-powered headlight that mechanics, rock climbers and midnight readers might use. But Nuru is hardwearing and is powered by Powercycle, a bicycle-like device that can recharge up to five lights and mobile phones in just 20 minutes.

Each Nuru can provide a rural household with light for up to 10 days. A family can purchase a Nuru for about 12,000 Burundian francs. The recharge fee is about 300 Burundian francs every 10 days.

© UNICEF Video
A woman in Gitega province. Poor families often spend a large proportion of their incomes on sources of energy and light, some of which are harmful to health.

Building on established safety net structures

In addition to benefits on purse and health, the lights may well prove a source of income. The Nuru programme will be implemented through already established community safety net organizations called solidarity groups. Solidarity groups, or community-based collective savings groups, have been set up as safety nets in communities plagued by poverty, underdevelopment and a large number of orphaned and vulnerable children.

In Burundi, children and women often find themselves destitute, as male family members can claim the rights of a deceased husband or father. Members, most of whom are women, are able to save money, access microloans to start businesses, assist orphans and vulnerable children and, where needed, access funds to address community emergencies.

These groups will be in charge of selling the lamps and running the recharging enterprise.

Hopefully, through the groups, women in rural Burundi will soon have access to a source of safe and affordable energy. The pilot phase of Nuru is six months. An assessment will be carried out to see whether the project has been successful. If so, it will be rolled out to more solidarity groups in other regions of the country. 

© UNICEF Video
Children in Gitega. Plans are underway to enable solidarity groups to sell the lights for income-earning opportunities. The groups work to address poverty and care for orphaned and vulnerable children in their communities.


More on solidarity groups, and the Child Protection Network

Ms. Manirakiza is one of the beneficiaries of her local solidarity group, Nawe Nuze. After being forced by her brothers to leave home when she was a teenager, she was rescued by a Child Protection Network – a coordinated group of government counterparts, UNICEF, NGOs and donors aimed at caring for orphaned and vulnerable children.

The Child Protection Network provided legal assistance to Ms. Manirakiza and connected her with Nawe Nuze. “I started putting in just a small amount that I earned from working on a neighbour’s land,” she says. “From there, I started selling salt and other things, and now I own three goats, a cow, and some chickens.” 

Solidarity group members care for orphans and vulnerable children in their community. “If you put money into the savings box, you have to put money into the orphans and vulnerable children’s box,” says Leonard Ndirahisha, who has worked to implement the programme in Gitega province. Each member is also in charge of looking after orphans, checking in on them, and making sure they have school supplies and enough food.

The solidarity groups are also helping shift society. Women, who are traditionally responsible for most of the child care and field work and must rely on their husbands to manage the finances, are starting to feel empowered. They have money in their pockets and are becoming leaders in their communities. 

Ms. Manirakiza is now part of the Child Protection Network, and her humble home is a bit crowded with her wards. Soon, she will have her own baby. She is certain her child will want for nothing and will learn the lessons she has, early on: how to save money, how to build wealth and to care for others less fortunate.




UNICEF Photography: Child protection

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