Smoke billows from a run-down, grass thatched and mud walled hut at Dagarani village, Mitangani Location in Kilifi County.
It’s almost lunch time and 31-year-old Zawadi Kenga Kahindi is busy with her household chores as her children play in the scorching sun.
It hasn’t rained for a while but the young ones appear less bothered by the heat and continue running around.
As she gathers dry twigs and stacks them at one corner of the house, she momentarily pauses.
With a smile, she stares at a solar panel installed on top of her manyatta and wonders how lucky she has been. Life, she utters to herself, will never be the same again.
A few weeks earlier, the twigs would have served her two purposes — as firewood to prepare meals for her family and light up her house — enabling her three children who attend a nearby school study.
For years, this had been the norm and life went on as usual. It, however, came with consequences.
The smoke affected her children and it is just by sheer luck that they have not been diagnosed with any serious respiratory disease.
But this does not mean they were not affected by the smoke, she says.
“Many a time, they coughed and were unable to study at night because of the smoke,” she says.
At the nearby Balaga village, 89-year-old Kadzo Ngumbao Karisa smiles as she ushers us into her three-roomed, mud-walled house.
It is much bigger than Ms Kenga’s grass thatched house and has an iron sheet roof.
However, inside reveals alarming levels of poverty in this area. The only furniture of note are two old beds, which are shared between herself, her daughter and nine grandchildren, majority of whom are school going.
With no other source of energy, Ms Karisa, equally resorted to using firewood for both cooking and lighting her abode.
“It’s been tough living under such conditions. But God has seen me through. The little cash I get from the government,” says Ms Karisa, a beneficiary of the cash transfer funds by the government which mainly targets older people.
Last week, the duo hosted a high powered delegation consisting of top-county, national government officials as well as diplomats to witness the launch of an innovative pilot project to provide solar lanterns to the poor in the region.
As the convoys snaked their ways into their homestead to witness the launch of the solar lanterns, both Ms Karisa and Ms Kenga expressed joy that their lives and those of their children will change for the better.
“My children will now have an opportunity to study late into the night because we now have lights. I equally don’t have to worry about respiratory diseases since I will scale down the use of firewood and tin lamps to light up our homes,” says Ms Kenga, sentiments that were equally echoed by Ms Karisa.
The duo are beneficiaries of an ambitious project dubbed ‘Mwangaza Mashinani’, aimed at ensuring the most vulnerable populations in Kenya are not left behind in the growing solar home systems market.
The project builds upon the efforts by the State in its national safety net program that addresses social protection for many households across the 47 counties.
Under this programme, cash transfers of Sh4,000 are delivered to highly vulnerable households on a bi-monthly basis.
‘Mwangaza Mashinani’ therefore leverages upon the existing social cash transfer programs by providing a conditional cash transfer to a targeted 2,000 beneficiary households in Garisa and Kilifi counties as a top up.
The areas targeted in the pilot phase include Dagamra, Chakama, Bungale, Mwahera,Mitingani and Mtsara wa Tsara wa Tsatsu locations in Kilifi County and Bura,Nanighi, Kamuthe, Jambelle, Masalani, Dertu, Labisigale, Kumahumato and Abaikaile locations in Garisa county.
These households are currently not using either solar energy or electricity.
The purpose of this top up is specifically to provide an opportunity of the beneficiaries to access and own solar lantern or a solar home system.
The project is funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Unicef Kenya office.
Speaking during the launch, Swedish Ambassador to Kenya Anna Jardfelt said Sh100 million will be used to ensure its success.
“In one year, we will then evaluate and see how the project has worked out…if it is a success, we hope to include other counties. We also hope to collaborate with other international actors if we can also prove it has succeeded,” she said.
Added the envoy: “Our main concern is how this is going to benefit the school going children – so that the can do their household chores and once they conclude them to have time to do their homework.”
Unicef’s Kenya Deputy Representative Patrizia DiGiovanni said they hope the project will lead to better grades for the schoolgoing children.
“And also in terms of equity…. We believe everybody has a right to basic services. Power and energy is falls under this category,” said Ms DiGiovanni.