The Necklace of Light
by Kisioki Moitiko, Maasai Stoves & Solar Project Manager, Maasai Warrior, PEER Research Principal Investigator
I want you to come with me, in your imagination, to a small Maasai settlement in the village of Enguiki in the Monduli Juu area. It is what we call a boma. There are ten houses in a circle. Each has a thatched roof and the inside space is divided into places to sleep, to cook and talk, and to keep the baby goats safe.
And because we have organized the Maasai women to do so much for themselves and to learn how to improve their homes, each of these mud and wood and dung and thatch houses is remarkably livable. The women used to cook over an open fire right in the middle. But now in this boma, each house has a stove with a chimney and cooking is clean and safe and takes much less fire wood. The kids don’t get burned. The air is clear of poisons. The women have time for things more important than fetching wood.
Light is an essential thing for all of us and up until now, the Maasai have been burning smelly kerosene for that purpose. So house by house, we have been helping people who have our stove purchase a small but excellent solar lighting and cell phone charging system.
In Monduli district alone there are over 200,000 Maasai living without electricity. This is a huge problem. And the electrification of rural Africa is a national and regional problem throughout the continent. But we should not wait for the national grid to come for two very good reasons.
Given the Tanzanian national economy and rate of development, Maasai communities will not be on the national grid for many years. Let’s do more than just wait. Let’s use this as an experiment to learn about our future. Let’s bring benefits to rural Africa using one of the most promising forms of locally based renewable energy. This would be a great learning process for us all.
We asked ourselves, “Are we sure house-by-house is the way we should be doing this? Why not develop micro-grids serving all the homes in a boma, a Maasai settlement? It might mean lower cost for each household and the people of the boma. And acting together could also allow electrical applications that no one house could afford by itself.”
Now come back with me to the boma in the dark in the hills near here. Can you see each house lit up like the jewels on a necklace? Can you imagine the beautiful sight of these rings of lights scattered in the hills as you drive through the countryside? It is a beautiful especially because you know how much it means to the children in those homes, who can study and learn and play in the light. And to their mothers who can care for their younger brothers and sisters in a healthy and pleasant environment without lighting dangerous and polluting fires.
So that is what we are doing with the PEER research grant. We are studying all aspects of creating micro-grids in these special small communities. We have had new technical and social problems to solve. The people of bomas have not had the experience of cooperating in the development of such renewable resources up to now. The PEER grant as made it possible to study all aspects of this process, technical and social.
We are carrying out technical research on the ways to distribute photovoltaic power. We are exploring what can be made available to be shared economically by entire bomas, such as refrigeration for medicines, electrical water purification and a computer for the children.
We are very happy to tell you that we are working with the Monduli Community Development Training Institutes, CDTI, of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender, and Children of the Tanzanian government to carry out this research by involving the Director of research at their Monduli campus and teams of their students.
We will learn from our partners at the University of Michigan and University of Colorado, Drs. Arun Agrawal and Krister Andersson, who are doing research with a National Science Foundation grant on the social problems that arise when people of unequal power and financial resources cooperate in situations analogous to ours in the bomas.
Through this research there are direct benefits to the participating Maasai. But most importantly, we will learn how to succeed in the development processes when new and very empowering technological resources are introduced and shared on this scale.
Something very beautiful is going to be created in this hills and plains near where we are now. We thank you for making it possible to create it with our Maasai companions.