Mr. Wadongo himself went without eating to fund the start-up costs associated with his business. “All along, I had been skipping two meals a day, so that I [could] construct the lamps,” he says, and construct them he did.
Like so many others, Mr. Wadongo suffers from poor eyesight caused by prolonged exposure to smoke from kerosene and firewood, as the burning of these fuels was his family’s only means of providing light. Lacking access to electricity, it was common for him and other students to either travel to public light sources (e.g. highways, the town square, etc.) or, more often, avoid study altogether. Such a situation naturally places these students at a great disadvantage, making it difficult to compete with those who do have electricity, and therefore even harder to escape poverty. In the ultimate quandary, those who opt to purchase kerosene or firewood for lighting spend precious financial resources that would otherwise be used to procure food.
In a courageous act of solidarity to those suffering from the predicament of his youth, Mr. Wadongo himself went without eating to fund the start-up costs associated with his business. “All along, I had been skipping two meals a day, so that I [could] construct the lamps,” he says, and construct them he did. Working with a local artisan, Mr. Wadongo sought the simplest and most cost-effective strategy to manufacture the lamps. His design utilizes salvaged sheet metal, which is more environmentally conscious than using new metals, coupled with imported battery cells and wiring.
The silicon-based solar film at the top of the lantern is, of course, the mainstay of the innovative device and is salvaged from recycled solar panels. He uses donations (about $20 per lantern) to sustainability support his small volunteer workforce, who assemble and deliver the lanterns. Mr. Wadongo himself works full time without pay to pursue his dream of providing every last rural family in Kenya with the gift of light – all free of charge.
Recently, other projects have taken off as well. SDFA-Kenya is currently supporting the Mukhonje Youth Group, and provides them with the re- sources to maintain a sugarcane plantation of 10+ hectares. Beyond the basic skills and discipline acquired by working on the farm, the group is also being educated in simple economics so that they may expand their venture. Another project that is in partnership with the Malanga Women’s Group involves dairy farming. SDFA-Kenya matches funds with the group so that they can purchase cattle (with finances that would have typically been used to purchase kerosene). The group is also instructed in micro-enterprising skills, project management, and basic accounting, which, in turn, is ultimately as valuable as fiscal support. SDFA-Kenya’s Poultry Project employs a similar template of “micro-funding plus education equals empowerment.” Such a tremendous social impact all thanks to one man and the light of his profound invention.
As of February, his Nairobi-based company SDFA-Kenya (Sustainable Development for All Kenya) has proudly dispersed over 10,000 solar lanterns to the rural people of Kenya — and it is only the beginning. Mr. Wadongo calls his invention the MwangaBora, Swahili for “good light.” Good light indeed