Project manager Chhavi Sharma distributes lights to students in Nairobi slum

Little Bees School is run by Mama Lucy Odipo in Starehe, a densely populated section of Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum. Lifeline Energy has been working there for more than three years. Kristine Pearson, Lifeline Energy’s CEO, and I were there to distribute solar-powered and wind-up Lifelights.

When questioned about their study habits, they told us that they usually read by the poor flame of a candle or koroboi, the traditional kerosene lamp made from tin cans. Even then, their use is economised and carefully budgeted, so that the kerosene can be made to last as many days as possible.  All members of the household have to share it, as there is no electricity in the area.

The children use the substitutes for electricity, i.e. the candle or koroboi, to study and do their homework in the evenings, but cannot do so for more than 20-30 minutes at a stretch, as the smoke greatly irritates their eyes and often makes them spit up black soot, they went on to explain.

The hazardous and undesirable effects of candles and kerosene on indoor air quality, which result in health – especially respiratory – issues and accidents, such as burns and fires, is well documented. These children, some as young as 12 years old, confront these problems on a daily basis, since they also use the candles and korobois to go to the communal toilets and assist their mothers with household chores, like preparing the dinner, washing the utensils and making the beds, after dark.

The children told us that the lights will enable them to study for one or two hours every night, giving them enough time to complete their homework. They believe ti will improve their academic performance in school over time. This was extremely important to them, as some of them are gearing up for national exams at the end of this year, which will gain them entry into secondary schools. In addition, the lights will help them feel safer by making it easy for them to spot thieves lurking in the alleyways and snakes and scorpions, when they walk to the toilets in the dark. Household size averages five in Starehe and all will now benefit.

The distribution of the lights was empowering for so many children and their families, and extremely moving for both Kristine and myself, as it gave them access to a practical tool that will help change their lives and brighten their future in more ways than one with immediate effect.