Ms Rukia Omar Mzee had never attended any formal school before she got the opportunity to study abroad and become an 'engineer' able to fix electric equipment to light houses in villages, the work perceived by many as for men only.
Today, Rukia is working as an expert to fix solar equipment [wiring, solar panels, sockets for charging mobile phones and bulbs] in village houses, which were without electricity from the national grid.
This was a short story told at the fifth anniversary of the 'Barefoot College of Zanzibar' held recently in Kibokwa Village, Kinyasini in the North of Unguja Island.
At the colourful celebration, Rukia was among the 13 hard working women who successfully graduated after a short course in India about 'fixing and maintaining solar equipment.' The 13 women (who had never been to any formal school before the training) have now joined over 700 formerly illiterate and semi-literate women as solar engineers from Barefoot's flagship solar electrification programme that has been empowering women and enriching communities since 2006.
The engineers at the developing college train other women to become engineers to fix and maintain solar light equipment in rural areas. The college also trains women to make beekeeping suits, beekeeping farming, and the production of sanitary pads for girls in the rural areas.
According to the plans, one engineer is required to light one hundred houses, but so far a total of 955 household have been fixed with solar equipment in the past five years, enabling residents to improve security and children to study at night using light.
Women in some rural areas already benefiting with the solar power lighting their houses gave testimonies that the electricity from solar they use, has helped them change their lives in many ways because electricity plays an important role in everyday life.
Children and Women from Matemwe and Bumbwini, where village solar power electrification programmes has been going on, said the clean energy is important when it comes to lighting their houses for security and children to study or do their school homework, and access to information (phones, media outlets), and health services (making emergency call for a pregnant woman).
Asha Haji a standard four student says since their house was connected to solar lights, "We have enough light to see, study and do our school homework. We thank the government for bringing the light in our houses." Houses fixed with solar contribute 6,000/- per month, paid in instalment, for the lamps and maintenance.
In recognition of their good work of lighting houses and in preparation for the solar standby power in future, Dr Shein has directed the responsible authorities in the government to employ the 13 lead women engineers who have been fixing houses with solar lights in rural areas.
He said the women engineers in the government payroll would motivate them and also reserve engineers for the future solar power in the Islands which relies heavily on power from the national grid from Tanzania mainland through marine cable.
Many researches have proved the importance of power to the development of human being and in emphasis on that point; President Shein has said that the government has taken measures to improve solar as an alternative source of electricity from the National Grid.
Dr Shein explained that the government in collaboration with European Union (EU), plans to carry on with solar power project because Tanzania including Zanzibar is lucky to have between 2800 and 5000 hours of sun in a year, enough to produce electricity.
The benefiting villages in Pemba include inhabited small Islands of Kisiwa-Panza and Mako-ongwe. Following the recorded success in lighting village houses since 2015, barefoot college International has promised to continue supporting 'barefoot college of Zanzibar.'
In 2018 the Ministry of Labour, Economic Empowerment, Elders, Children, and Women development PS Ms Bilali and Ms Meagan Carnahan Fallone- Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Barefoot College International signed an agreement for continued collaboration.
The Ministry's Minister Dr Moudline Cyrus Castico says the project, has been changing the lives of people particularly women and children in the rural areas still without electricity, because solar lights is a relief from smoke from burning kerosene lamps and firewood when children want to study at night.
Dr Castico says the government in collaboration with development partners are committed to see that all houses including in rural areas are connected to "Electricity, prerequisite to development."
She urged residents to minimize cutting down trees and burn kerosene, because smoke/ and carbon-dioxide pose health risks, and environment ruining contributes to negative impacts of climate change [like temperature rise, floods].
The Barefoot College is also educating women about reproductive health, financial savings and management, and environment protection.
Barefoot College International (BfCI) has set up branches in rural areas in other African countries including Senegal, Liberia, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Tanzania mainland, where the college runs special programmes to empower women by training them to harness solar energy.
The centres in each country like that of Zanzibar run same courses for the semi-literate and illiterate women to empower them for electrifying their houses and to expand their livelihood. The programme includes six months' training programme for women who do not have any knowledge of solar energy.
Since 2006 when the programme started, Barefoot's flagship solar electrification programme has trained more than 704 illiterate and semi-literate women as solar engineers in Africa.
Analysts estimate that globally, 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity. More than 75 per cent of those people are located in rural areas not connected to grid power (due to cost or remote location). Many families in rural areas still cannot pay for the connection costs of power from the National Grid, which include paying for in-house wiring and from the electricity pole; therefore many may still continue relying on solar electricity.
The World Banks says access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is vital to ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. It points out that energy like electricity can help improve the quality of life for millions around the world.
Source: Daily News