Send a Cow Rwanda’s Programme Fundraiser, Poppy Walton sees first-hand the difference solar energy is making.

Thanks to a three year funding project from FONERWA, Send a Cow Rwanda (SACR) has started to help 600 farmers gain access to light through solar energy and the first round of distribution has just taken place.

Over a two day period, 199 farmers in two communities received the solar lanterns. The lanterns, provided by the Rwandan company, Great Lakes Energy cost around $30 and will last for 10 years. Fully charged they will provide up to 30 hours of light as well as the capacity to charge mobile phones and other devices. Great Lakes Energy is providing the lights and training in how to use them. Send a Cow Rwanda provided the initial capital, which will act as a revolving fund so that more people can access the solar energy.

The communities taking part in the training were excited and motivated, and even other people from surrounding villages came by to see what was happening. It was a great example of the knowledge generated by Send a Cow being shared and passed on to the communities in which we work.

The benefit of solar lanterns is well-documented. When kerosene cannot be afforded or little firewood is available, families will go without light in the evenings. The sun sets at around 6pm every day in Rwanda, which means evenings are often spent in total darkness. This is particularly challenging for children and teenagers who need this time to study for school.

There are also financial and environmental issues, as kerosene is costly and collecting firewood is time-consuming. Not forgetting the health and safety issues: smoke is a major cause of dangerous respiratory diseases, particularly for young children, while women, who do the majority of the cooking, frequently suffer from burns.

All of the families who received lanterns this week have no access to electricity from the national grid. But this renewable and clean energy source means the families save the money they would have spent on kerosene and save time as they no longer have to collect large quantities of wood. Solar energy is also protecting the environment by reducing deforestation, as well as protecting families from fire hazards and enabling children to do better at school.

But it doesn’t stop there. Mobile phones are very popular in Rwanda – especially in rural areas where they provide access to a number of valuable services like basic banking, market information and advice via free text messages. Without electricity people have to walk to community centres, often over 30 minutes away, and then pay a fee to charge their phones. But now, with a solar lamps, some farmers are setting up a small business and charging their neighbours' phones for a small fee.

It’s a wonderful example of a simple thing so many of us take for granted, making a massive difference to people’s lives. Those lamps lit up faces and they are going to shed light on the world.