Kenya’s Maasai herders train as solar technicians

solar-energy18 July 2013, Kajiado — Until recently, the Maasai youth in Kenya’s southern region saw only one occupation in their future: cattle keeping. It’s what generations of their tribesmen had done before them and was the only job that qualified them as men in this staunchly patriarchal community that sees livestock as everything, the sole measure of wealth.

Now things are changing. The community along the border with Tanzania is gradually opening up to the larger world, and Kenya’s recent spate of droughts has made livestock an unreliable source of income. That is why some young men are embracing a supplementary occupation that was once totally alien to the region: solar entrepreneurship.

“I can now proudly say that I have acquired skills that supplement the income that I get from herds, (and that is) my expertise in both solar installation and entrepreneurship,” said a proud Ole Kenta, one of the region’s new young solar experts.

Through selling solar panels and working as a solar technician on the expansive savannah, he said he now earns more than $200 a month – and plans to use some of the cash to expand his livestock herd.

“Solar entrepreneurs are people trained on two levels: as salesmen and distributors of lights, and as technicians capable of installing panels and carrying out repair and maintenance work” said Jeroen Pool, head of Solar for Sub-Saharan Africa Communities and Schools, S3C, a Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation that is providing training and support for the scheme.

In 2011, S3C came to Kenya’s Maasai-inhabited Kajiado region with the aim of bringing solar power to schools, which suffered from a lack of lighting, and to homes that were relying on woodfire to light up the dark nights.

But the organisation quickly realised that even if it was able to link every school to a solar-lighting system, there was nobody who knew how to keep those systems up and running.

“We discovered that qualified technicians were few and only found in major towns where their skills were hardly needed,” said Pool. “As such our aim to provide schools with solar power could not succeed.”

– Maina Waruru, Alertnet

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