In amongst my frustration (and later concern) at the Invisible Children “#Kony2012″ video I have still been working, and this post is about a fascinating day I spent this week with Shelter and Settlement Alternatives at one of their projects in Kisenyi III slum, Kampala.
SSA’s mission is “to address issues and challenges affecting human settlements in Uganda, through advocacy, networking and information sharing”. They do a lot of advocacy and lobbying, but they also focus on the lives of slum-dwellers and try to look for original and sustainable solutions to problems which affect this section of Ugandan society. You can read all about them on their website (http://www.ssauganda.org) if you’d like to know more.
The project I was going to visit was Jen King’s Solar Bottle Lamp program. The idea, also to be seen in the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya and Tanzania, is that by putting a plastic bottle through a piece of corrugated iron and putting that into the roof of the average slum house (which, owing to structural constraints, seldom has any windows), the house will effectively have a 60w lightbulb which runs for free whenever the sun is shining. It’s a pretty simple idea but it works beautifully. Good did a great article on it, which you can read here. The project is supported in part by the Congressional Center for Hunger.
Jen saw the idea being done by Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Litre Of Light) amongst others, and saw that it could easily be applied in the slums of Kampala, where the darkness of the houses is constant. The darkness has many effects, among them the inconvenience (and risk) of having to light the house all day as well as at night, usually using naked flames. In addition children must go outside in order to study, which exposes them to risks, and there is a high rate of electrocution as people try to connect their houses to mains power by means of illegal hookups.
Jen has been doing sensitisation and preparation for the past few months, and today is the day that the first unit is to be installed. Her enthusiasm for the project is, she says, a source of amusement for her family. “Yep, so my whole Christmas list was ‘A Drill.’” she grins. But she and her program assistant Martin Agaba have been working with the Uganda Slum Dwellers Association in Kisenyi III and the little group have made a unit each, ready for installation.
The group consists of people who live in the surrounding slum, young and old, make and female, and the pride they take in the solar units they have created is tangible.
The start of the day was making sure the bottles were ready for installation.
The slum exists in a limbo, and I had a sense that the enthusiasm of the group was driven partly by a desire to work on DIY projects to promote a feeling of stability in the chaos.
There’s a lot of get-up-and-go in the group, and the intention is that once people see how simple the idea is they will begin to do it themselves.
An example of a project which has truly taken root is that of the reconstituted charcoal:
Simple, cheap, effective. Brilliant.
And so, bottles in hand (each full of water and with one capful of bleach added to stop the growth of algae) the group sets off to install the first solar unit.
The lucky recipient was Salome, who lives just inside the slum in a house decorated with pictures of all sorts of things, including a picture of the head of President Museveni photoshopped onto the torso of Rambo, and this bleak gem:
And so the whole thing began…
Then to the roof, for installation!
And suddenly, there’s a lightbulb.
News, of course, spreads fast.
The man at the left of the image above is the father of the baby below, who is called Gaddafi.
So there you have it. A project which gives free light all day every day for seven years, for the cost of two dollars and a hole in your roof. If you’d like to know more or donate, their website is http://www.ssauganda.org/
In other news, Rocca Gutteridge and Nikki Elphinstone, under the umbrella of their awesome organisation 32° East, are fundraising for a new art library on Indiegogo. The link is here- rather than buying a bracelet and a poster, how about donating to something which will actually make a difference! http://www.indiegogo.com/Building-the-Ugandan-Arts-Trust