Solar lantern makes kerosene lights seem dark

Two participants in the initial field trials of the prototype solar lantern talk about their experiences.

John Njuguna and his wife outside their house, with the solar panel visible on the roof behind them

John Ngujuna is a farmer with a plot of three and a half acres producing various fruits and vegetables including bananas. His house has three rooms and is situated in the centre of the farm, with a compound outside which includes pens for two cows and seven goats, as well as chickens.

He has three grown children, two sons who "go into town and come home at night", and a daughter who is involved in a hotel business -- therefore five adults in the household.

John was issued with the lantern before Christmas: "it worked alright for about four hours on the 25th". He charged and used it a second time thereafter.

Nakuru farmer John Njuguna and wife at home on their 3.5 acre smallholding using the prototype solar lantern for reading in the evening

From this experience, John says, "The light was excellent, even better than electricity. I liked it very much. I even took it outside and it lit up the whole compound. This thing is very good when big groups of people come together, like on the 25th [December]. Also, now I'm growing old, I'm 55, and with this on I can read very clearly. I have some magazines and I also like to read the Bible. When this lights, the kerosene lamp seems to be dark."

Margaret Warrumu testing the prototype solar lantern.  Previously her only choice was a kerosene lamp (seen at the top of the picture)

Margaret Warrumu is 40 years old. In her family are her mother (who put up the funds for the lantern), husband and seven children. She is a small-scale farmer, with one plot around her house. She also had a business selling second hand clothes, but has taken her profits from that and invested it in a second piece of land some distance away.

"At first we charged the lantern from electricity for eight hours, at the house of a friend, and I was then getting two hours use. Since the solar panel came I've been getting four hours use. It didn't work at first until my son found a problem with the lead and fixed it" [pointing to a boy of about eight or nine years]

"I can't use both the radio and the lantern for a long period, so we use the radio for the 7 o'clock news and then switch it off for the light. Also if we run the two lights together the charge goes more quickly." [there is an auxiliary light which can be used from the output socket]

"I wanted to try a solar home system, but before doing that I wanted to try this out first, and to reduce my kerosene cost. I preferred to try this because it's cheaper.

"Initially it helped me because I used to buy kerosene more frequently than now, so my costs have gone down. Unless I use my small lamp for the kitchen, I don't have any need for kerosene any more. In a month we would spend 120 Ksh on around five litres of kerosene. Now I spend only about 40 Ksh per month."

the solar lantern enables children to do their homework in the evenings

When we asked her to light her kerosene lamp for comparison, Margaret laughed and said she couldn't because she'd even forgotten about buying kerosene regularly.

"As soon as we got this lantern we could see that it was better. When the lantern is on we can't see that the kerosene one is on. When we are doing something outside it lights my way. And when my children are doing their homework it helps them too -- they get about two hours of work to do."

Now that her family has seen the lantern there is competition for its use: "The young men are all demanding it. They each want to take it to their own place."

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