In the developed world, access to electricity is an absolute given even in the rural areas, but things are different in rural Kenya where most of the population lives, mostly in poverty.
These rural areas have always been marginalized with reference to the electricity grid, thus making connections to the grid to be too expensive for the rural poor, the main social class that Little Ambassadors identify with.
Koroboi, or kerosene lamp, toxic and smoky with all its myriad negative effects, has been the main source of light for Little Ambassadors and their families.
With most Little Ambassadors’ families struggling to put food on the table, getting connected to the grid used to be a pipe dream, until the Rural Electrification project came along, with public schools as the main entry point.
We had the privilege of talking with five Little Ambassadors from two project schools, a parent and a career educator who has lived to see her school grow from one room serving as a classroom for class 1, 2 and 3 -- to a full-blown school.
“The poor visibility affects our eyes, the smoke from the kerosene lamp makes us cough…”, Gabriel Kithi states, “Sometimes there’s no money to buy kerosene and the little that we have has to be rationed,” interjects Penina, a point that Mr. Samson Mangi who is a parent of twins at Baguo primary school fully agrees with. “Kerosene is expensive, in a week you can use up to Ksh. 200 (USD $ 2.50) on kerosene, that’s a lot of money for us”
There’s also a risk of causing a fire...since most of our roofing is thatched and easily catches fire,” Pendo says, speaking thoughtfully.
Her Little Ambassador colleagues in Mbarakachembe, which is about 25 km away from Baguo primary school, in a peri-urban area have a different set of challenges.
Annette Chonga and Daniel Mwameri both agree that electric lighting will help make their community much safer, crime being a more pressing social problem in their peri-urban villages.
Naomi Nyiro, the Headmistress of Baguo primary school, started teaching way back in 1981 and has had an illustrious career as an educator, ”Teaching and working with children is my life” she proudly shares with a beaming smile on her face, “...although it has not been easy.”
“Running a boarding section without electricity has been a major headache for us, we had to use gas lighting...and that’s not so cheap either, although it was a little better than using kerosene lamps.”
Being a forward-thinking school administrator, she had always yearned for the digitization of school records, “Managing records with a computer is much safer, faster and easier...but without electricity, even if a well-wisher donated a computer to our school, what would we do with it? “ she asks.
Mrs. Naomi’s vision of a digitized education system is also shared by the current regime, which has been pushing for adoption of laptops in all public primary schools.
Perhaps that’s why Little Ambassadors from Mbarakachembe primary school had very little to say about Life On The Koroboi Side, they were ecstatic about their spanking new computer lab, one of the many pilot projects across the country being used to inform government policy before a full rollout to all public primary schools.
“I really love the YouTube video tutorials for subjects that I’m struggling with,” Daniel Mwameri shares, Annette Chonga smiles at Daniel’s comment and tells us that she’s more excited about the story books,”...and oh! Learning new vocabulary in the self-paced learning module. Every time i use the computer i learn so much.” she adds.
“That’s because of the internet….our teacher told us about it. There is a lot of information there,” Daniel reminds Annette. The computer lab is clearly a source of joy and wonder for Little Ambassadors.
But even without a functional computer lab, Little Ambassadors in Baguo primary school are optimistic about the electrification project. The boarding section spends much less on lighting while the day scholars get to use it for self-study early in the morning or to just catch up with their homework assignments. “Our parents will not need to buy textbooks any longer once the laptop project comes to our school,” Gabriel Kithi reminds us.
Five Little Ambassadors, one hard working but struggling parent, and a career educator. That’s what they think about a future connected to the grid, and their hope is contagious.