Grandmothers are now solar engineers

Photo | Base camp foundation
Two of the Maasai trainees and their teacher during practical classes on solar engineering in Tilonia India.

What you need to know:

  • Five illiterate Maasai women from Mara Naboisho Conservancy return today from India after six months pursuing courses in solar engineering

They are no longer sitting, crocheting, cooking or baby-sitting their grandchildren while expectantly waiting for the month to end so they may get their upkeep allowances from their children who work in towns.

The role of grandmothers has now changed massively, and they can become actively involved in income-generating activities.

The story of five Maasai women, who never went to school, should bring inspiration to many, who cannot fend for themselves, leave alone visit the city.

The women who return on Tuesday have been out of the country for six months pursuing courses in solar engineering in India.

A spokesman of the families and son of one of the trainees, John Sengeny, said: “A new breed of heroines and champions has been born in the Mara.”

Referred to as “the five barefoot solar sisters” each has the responsibility of lighting or installing and maintaining solar systems in 15 houses. In total the women will light 60 houses around Mara Naboisho Conservancy by December 2011.

The grandmothers, who were expected to be aged between 40-50 to qualify, were enrolled at the Barefoot College in India courtesy of Base Camp Foundation – Kenya.

According to Judy Kepher-Gona, the CEO of the foundation targeting poor rural villages in Maasai Mara and India, the project aims to use solar technology to create environmentally and economically secure villages by investing in women and the youth.

“The Base Camp Green Villages project under which the women were sponsored for training is as unique as the women trainees. The achievement of these brave women will certainly change perceptions about grandmothers and women in Koiyaki Location, Mara Divison, and Narok South District.”

But the training was not an easy task for the women who don’t communicate in English. The trainers in India had to use sign language and practical demonstration, using colour coordinated cables to teach.

The course also had lessons in solar electrical fittings, installation of solar household solar lighting systems, repairs and maintenance.

The grandmothers qualified from the rest after they received endorsement from their village elders as being responsible and dependable.

Narok is an old dusty town west of Nairobi in south-west Kenya, along the Great Rift Valley with a population of about 40,000 people, mostly Maasai.

The grandmothers had not visited a town other than Narok, and seen the lights similar to what they will now install.

Naboisho Conservancy, which is outside the Maasai Mara reserve was launched in December.

Families have leased 20,600 hectares of land outside the reserve to help the local community gain from tourism.

The community signed a 15-year lease agreement with tourism partners who have committed to investing in the conservancy.

Ecotourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry as travellers become environmentally aware and opt for eco-destinations.