Two-thirds of the nearly 60 million people living in Tanzania do not have access to electricity (that's roughly the equivalent of California's population). No power means no light. And so for Joyce and Lamec, who live near to the equator in Tanzania, that means 12 hours of darkness every day.
For Joyce and Lamec, when the sun sets at 6:30 pm, everything must stop. There’s no cooking or making things to sell, and no homework for the children.
“I used to lose a lot of my chickens to thieves,” says Lamec. “Wild animals used to come out at night, often hyenas. They are nocturnal animals so they are not comfortable with the light…”
With no electricity, the people turn to candles, charcoal, or kerosene lamps. All of these are expensive and are a fire risk to the wood-framed, thatched-roofed homes.
However, there is one energy source that isn’t dangerous. For those living on Tanzania’s equator, the 12 hours of sunshine mean that people like Joyce and Lamec can use solar energy to light their homes. A clean, natural energy source.
Realizing the answer to their energy problem was within their grasp, Tearfund’s partner, Anglican Church Diocese of Rift Valley, came up with a plan. They identified villages in greatest need and started to work with them to install solar panels – helping people gain access to light, enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty.
A brighter future
Joyce and Lamec wanted to get involved and were able to take part through their local church. They both feel safer now that they have solar lighting. But the thing that brings them the most joy is the better life and brighter future it’s creating for their family.
“Now the children and grandchildren come and study here at night. We have a light outside so they can stay out and play safely together,” says Lamec. “We want them to have a good education and the light helps them to do that.”
Better education will mean access to better jobs in the future. “The solar light will give the children a better life than we have had.”
Hope for a single mother
The church’s solar power initiative has helped others lift themselves out of poverty. Paulina, a single mother of three, has a young baby at home and is trying to pay for her two older children to attend school. She had been brewing beer to provide an income, but it wasn’t enough to cover her expenses.
“I knew that I would not be able to do this alone,” says Paulina. “So I decided to join Pamoja, a Christian group. I saw they were full of peace and love.”
With Tearfund’s help, the Pamoja (which means 'together' in Swahili) groups were set up and are a place where people can save money and support each other. Through these groups, people can take out loans to buy solar equipment.
“I was always a good cook,” says Paulina. “But, all I did was brew beer to sell. The Pamoja group gave me good spiritual advice. I decided to stop the beer and open a café instead.”
Because there was no electricity, Paulina could not light her café at night. So Paulina took advantage of The Anglican Church Diocese of Rift Valley's solar light initiative through her Pamoja group. The program allows group members to save up to pay for half of the cost of a solar lighting system. As their income increases, they pay back the full cost of the light. After saving for a whole year, Paulina now has solar lamps to light up her café.
"Solar has helped me a lot. Now I can open my business at night. I'll stay open until 11:00 pm if there are customers. Thanks to that extra money, I can support my children to finish their education."
More than just electricity
Paulina's café serves chapati, rice, beans, doughnuts, and tea to local families. It's the only restaurant in the village. “I want to thank God for all the people who support Tearfund,” says Paulina. “I will pray for you. Thanks to you, God has opened a door of blessing for me. Not only do I have solar lights, my spiritual life has grown and I go to church. My favorite worship song to sing is, The door to heaven is open.”
Joyce, Lamec, and Paulina's stories show us that when the local church acts as a powerful force for good, inspiring and empowering people to identify needs in their community and mobilize resources to address them, communities can be transformed.