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  • Joel Reyia Kapante

Solar Lanterns & Books Change Lives

We recently distributed a solar lantern and a collection of books for both study and pleasure to the 48 families of Mara Girls Leadership School. The students live in homes that have never had power or books before. Here's an update from Joel, who did the first family visits a few days ago with Amos and Mouline.

by Joel Reyia Kapante


"That does it!" said Naeku Meing’ati, banishing her younger sister Naserian from her reading room. The latter had just inadvertently extinguished her small tin kerosene lamp with her breath. While coughing from the smoke, Naeku then painstakingly relit the lamp before settling down for her evening studies. She was preparing to sit her end-of-primary school exams. Although that was 8 years ago, the event remained etched in her sister’s memory.


Fast forward to 2021 and Naserian is now in the same situation her older sister was in. Her final exam is due in two months. She is determined to give it her best. She is a pupil of Mara Girls Leadership School in the heart of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, some 250 kilometres southwest of the capital Nairobi.

Naserian studying for her final exams

With the extended closure of schools due to the pandemic, things moved from bad to worse. That is where, as she puts it, the OliveSeed and Basecamp Foundation extended the hand of care.


"Thanks to the two organisations, I received a solar lamp and a selection of 14 books in English and Kiswahili," Naserian said, smiling. On her desk are also a few wildlife books and revision papers.


Her mother avers that the supplies were a "godsend opportunity." Reading during the extra-long holiday has kept her girls engaged. This has spared her the ignominy of the rash of teenage pregnancies witnessed countrywide.


"COVID-19 has precipitated mass drop-outs especially among girls," she said.


Her words are echoed by Nelly Sananka, her daughter’s classmate. She said that the solar libraries really did something to her. She has nurtured the habit of reading a lot of literature without neglecting her revision materials. She relates an interesting story she read from one of the books, The Man Who Never Lied.


"I’m in good stead to finish the syllabus before March. The teachers will chip in the difficult parts," Nelly said. "The lamps are versatile and the bulb is easy to carry when mother sends me on errands."


In Talek, we are welcomed by the sight of lamps hanged on rooftops to soak up solar energy. The pupils hang them at sunrise and remove them at dusk. At 8pm, Mary Kisaika’s room turns into a miniature classroom. She seats with her siblings to study until 10pm when her mother calls for dinner. This has become the norm in their house.


"As there is abundant sunlight, we’re having an uninterrupted reading time which has dealt our performance a power of good," said Mary.


Over 700 books and solar lamps were delivered directly to the families at home. No doubt, the solar libraries are a game changer.


LEARN MORE

Mara Girls Solar Library Project (webpage)

Solar Library Project... We're Getting There! (blog post)

Head Teacher Mouline on the Solar Library Project (video)

About the Author

Joel Reyia is a writer, journalist, and economist living the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. A graduate of Kenyatta University in Nairobi, he has served as correspondent for Nation Africa (the daily national newspaper) and is the author of a children's anthology, "Lekuta & the Goats & Other Stories."


Joel's short stories have appeared in Lunaris Review and Itanile Freedom magazines. Two of these were longlisted for the Inaugural Toyin Falola Prize and the Collins Elesiro Literary Prize. His debut novella is due for publication in 2021. Currently, Joel is working as a freelance journalist as well as undertaking conservation education programs in the Maasai Mara.