Changing rural life in Sidonge, our pilot project
Sidonge ‘A’ borders Uganda in the western tip of Kenya. It is situated within a stone’s throw from the River Sio that flows into Lake Victoria’s northern most tip. Home to a population of around 600 people or 104 families, it is quite a pleasant place – people smile a lot, are very friendly and welcome visitors. This belies the fact that life here is quite hard. Partnered with the Centre for Africa Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE), who works closely within the community on development projects, RVE.SOL has chosen Sidonge as our pilot project.
Being located close to the River Sio, general availability of water is not a major problem in the area. Availability of clean, drinking water however is a very real one. Daily life involves waking up early to go and fetch river water; water which is full of bacteria and impurities. The Kenyan government funded a borehole project in the area some time ago – since then some families have access to clean, piped water which, while not on tap or faucet in their homes, is quite close and convenient. At KES300 (Kenyan Shillings) per month, that clean water is available only to the select few that can afford it. Even so, there is no guarantee of supply with the taps often running dry. Most of the 104 families rely on the river or the local water holes which derive water from the river. Once the women and young girls collect water from here, they have to carry it back home. Sometimes, it is consumed as is but more often, the water is boiled to make it drinkable. Herein lies a double-edged problem – open wood fires are used to cook and boil. As a result, Sidonge and its surroundings has been all but stripped of natural hardwood trees. It is estimated that rural African families consume 14 large trees per annum for their cooking needs. Sidonge is no different but they do want to change their situation – we are helping them.
As a rule, Sidonge’s families cook with firewood and/or charcoal. This is not due to choice – the people of Sidonge recognise the effects of open-fire cooking on their health. A typical working day has the women and children searching for firewood with which to light a fire to cook food or boil water, or they go to the market to buy charcoal. Smoke from the burning wood causes eyes to sting, noses to run and a persistent cough. Traditionally a “free” resource, the community is now realising that the resource is scarce and that deforestation is a very real looming problem for them. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda alone, deforestation amounted to in excess of 9.6M hectares over the last 10 years - 6.5, 19.4 and 26.4% of total forest cover respectively. Sometimes they make do with charcoal, un-sustainably and illegally harvested in other parts of the country, made in the bush and transported many miles to get to the local market that serves Sidonge. As a result, it’s not really cheap either. The people of Sidonge do want to change their situation – we are helping them.
Electricity has not reached Sidonge yet – the International Energy Agency estimates that 84% of Kenya’s population has no access to grid electricity. At highly accelerated installation rates, it would take over 250 years to get electricity to the whole population. When the grid does finally get to Sidonge, most families, if not all, will not afford the cost of connection. The children who go to school come home in the evenings and have to struggle to read by kerosene lamp whose fumes cause the children to cough and cause respiratory illness.During our survey we found one home that had a small solar panel used for powering a light and a radio. Looking to make that service available to the community more broadly, we are helping them.
Despite these hardships, the people of Sidonge have a certain, tangible, positive energy – they’re pervasively happy and have a willingness to embrace change and make a difference for themselves. This is one of the many reasons that favoured Sidonge in our choice of pilot sites out of the over 30 sites we surveyed. In addition to this, they fulfilled our selection criteria for a village in need – these criteria involved a mix of suitability of the site for the solution, land lease agreements, community spirit and willingness to change behaviours. Life in Sidonge, like millions of other rural African villages, is an endless cycle of poverty and illness with no recourse in sight.
With the arrival of the first Rural Village Energy Hub (RVE), we intend to change this status quo – we intend to demonstrate that our model is sustainable and life changing. The Sidonge community is heavily involved in the planning and implementation of the project, which ultimately they will own, ensuring its long term success. In parallel, we are measuring the social Return on Investment (sROI) our solution is causing in the form of reduced illness, increased savings and income and ultimately a better standard of living. We’ll be sharing real stories of people’s lives impacted so please follow us on TWITTER and FACEBOOK (or click on the green bar below to follow/like directly) to keep up to date.
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