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For nearly three years, I’ve been focusing on understanding the use of firewood, kerosene and candles by vulnerable children and women in sub-Saharan Africa. I often write and speak about how kerosene, outside South Africa, is largely unregulated in sub-Saharan Africa and of its dangers. The havoc it wreaks on people’s lives in their quest to have light after dark is still not widely reported.

This week a colleague we distributed Lifelights to child-heads of households between the ages of 13 and 20 and asked them my usual list of questions. But I heard something that I have never heard before. Alarmingly, they are buying diesel fuel instead of kerosene or mixing the two together because it is cheaper. Diesel is even more toxic and flammable than kerosene.  This is hugely worrying. The children told us that they dig in neighbour’s fields to earn money, and the three things that they buy are lighting fuel (kerosene or diesel) by the tablespoon, salt and soap. When they have no money, they use firewood for light.

Each of the 12 children were thrilled to receive their light, saying that this light would free them from the dangers of liquid fuel and give them safe light in which cook, wash, study and walk after dark. Being able to make their bed and to see bugs, snakes or rats before getting into it, as they generally sleep on the ground, gave them comfort and they broke out into spontaneous applause.

Outside Nyamata, Rwanda May 2010