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Solar Light For Africa - Part 1
by Peyton Hoffman
Media and Industry Relations Manager Peyton Hoffman recently went on a mission trip to Africa. The experience has had a profound effect on her so we asked her to share her experience with us. This is what she had to say:
It's been almost a week since I returned to the US, having spent the better part of the last three weeks installing solar light in Uganda. The organization I traveled with, Solar Light For Africa, was started in 1997 with the goal of empowering the people of Africa through the provision of solar light. In this three part blog series, I'll recount some of the incredible experiences of this trip and share some photos too!
After 18 hours of flying, we landed in Entebbe and were immediately whisked away to the VIP section of the airport, where we met the Ugandan students, solar contractors and Special Forces guards that would be accompanying us for 2 1/2 weeks. After a very jet-lagged night in Kampala, we took off for Karamoja.. and the adventure began.
This year's main work site was Lorengdwat, a village in Karamoja, located on the border of Kenya and Uganda. The Karamojong are cousins of the Masai and known throughout Uganda as warrior nomads. This region is one of the most marginalized in all of Uganda and one of the least developed in the world. The Karamojong are cattle, goat and sheep herders, moving wherever water, land and food availability leads. Right now, the closest source of water for drinking or bathing is a two-hour walk from the Lorengdwat village. While English is the national language of Uganda, the Karamojong speak their own tribal language. They have no food. They have no clothes. They have no health care, formal education, books, electricity, running water, or material items. Many of the children have never bathed, as there isn't any soap. They sleep on either dirt or concrete floors. Even in Uganda, Karamoja is almost an urban legend. No one makes the 12 hour, one lane, dirt road trek from Kampala without good reason and military protection. And it was into this village that we came; a caravan of Americans and Ugandans, working together to help the Karamojong.
The Ugandan government, in a concerted effort to stabilize the country's "border villages" recently built permanent housing for the Lorengdwat village. The buildings are made out of concrete, with tin roofs. Our goal was to install solar electricity into the entire village and (not yet staffed) clinic. While this took several days, it was accomplished. Moreover, the Karamojong became fast friends. The children followed us from house to house, waiting to see what we'd do next. They made copper bracelets out of leftover conductor wire, turned cardboard boxes into new beds, and took our empty water bottle jugs to collect water from the river for their families. The men of Karamoja spent time inspecting our work and negotiating with the guards to see how many goats, cows and horses it would take to keep the American women in Karamoja. We never reached a consensus on that one.
Once the solar panels were completed, we went from house to house and taught the Karamojong how to use their solar electricity. As a gesture of gratitude, the Karamojong gave us a goat and brought their tribal dancers out to celebrate each home. The festivities went on for hours. I even joined in to learn some of the dancing, but after 15 minutes of dancing like a Karamojong my legs were on fire!
Below are some of my favorite moments from Lorengdwat (in no particular order):
1. Watching the Karamojong children see themselves in pictures for the first time.
2. Teaching the Karamojong women how to turn on, and off, a light switch.
3. Giving the children shirts or shorts- some putting them on for the first time.
4. Watching the Karamojong tribal dancers celebrate the completion of solar light in this village.
5. Climbing up on the roofs of these homes and installing solar light panels.
6. Cleaning the children with hand wipes: watching their astonishment at realizing that dirt comes off.
7. Communicating through hugs and gestures for a week and a half.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow: Mountain climbing, the Nile River, Zziba and Jinja
Karamoja Child Wearing First Pair of Shorts Ever
Karamoja Tribal Dancers
Karamoja House with Solar Light Panel
Karamoja House with Light Installed and Karamoja People
Peyton Hoffman with Karamoja Children
Peyton Hoffman Installing a Solar Light
The Solar Light Team and the Karamoja Tribe