Senegal's Solar Mamas

Senegal's Solar Mamas

Earlier this year, we saw the first batch of women in Senegal graduate as solar energy and maintenance technicians from a training programme run by us and the Barefoot College International (BCI). Dubbed the Solar Mamas, these intrepid women are well on their way to bring about positive change in their local communities.

The Mamas all hail from non-electrified, rural areas of the Ranerou region in northern Sengal. Not only do the residents from there have to deal with a lack of energy, slow economic development means that there aren’t many jobs nor business opportunities for locals to exploit.

The programme jointly developed with BCI was designed to help alleviate these issues. Not only were the Solar Mamas trained to be solar technicians, they were also given all the necessary tools and support to start up their own small scale ventures in Ranerou.

From the outset, the programme was an eye-opening experience for these women. Many of them had never even left their villages until they travelled the 415 kilometers to the town of Toubab Dialao, where they received their training. Most of them had never held a job their entire lives. There was some initial scepticism.

“Representatives from the Barefoot College came to us and told us about the project,” recalls Fatimata Sall, a 33 year old mother of 3. “Since we all come from rural areas, we had never even heard of this programme and some of us were pretty reluctant to participate.”

But given their circumstances, all the participants realised that any misgivings they had about the offer did not stack up to the benefits they could gain from participating in it – both personally and for their communities. As Aissata Amadou Diallo, a housewife, put it, “After coming back, we have installed beautiful lamps powered by solar energy. We don’t have to buy candles anymore!”

The training was not easy, as most of the women had little to no formal education. Others had very little experience with some modern technologies that we take for granted, and bringing them up to speed formed a part of their training.

“We were introduced to digital technology,” recalls 30-year-old Hawa Sow. “We learned how to use mobile phones and Google, about GPS. And we also learned how to make charcoal and soap and learned everything related to women. It's thanks to all this training that I have a job today.”