Michel and Emmanuel, WCS’s country director and our pilot director, respectively, picked me up at 8. We went to the WCS headquarters to pick up the “mountain truck.”
We drove to the office of Jean Batiste, the elected Mayor of the Nyungwe district. We explained our plan, demonstrated our model, and the first question from this young guy in a soccer shirt was whether there was any way our lanterns could be manufactured in Rwanda! After many questions, we got his blessing and then it was off to Gakenke, the first village where we will conduct our pilot.
You can’t say there’s an actual road to Gakenke. Although there are road projects, as well as other infrastructure projects going on everywhere you look (and all being done by Chinese contractors using Rwandan labor), we got what we asked for – a REALLY remote village that has NO chance of being on the grid in our lifetimes. It was two hours of a dirt and mud path that finally got us there – over one mountain after another.
We were greeted by Zachery, the Executive Secretary of the Sector. Another very young leader (not surprisingly, it’s difficult to find many older leaders in this country), we stopped in the road when Emmanuel saw him and began our discussion there. Soon we were joined by dozens of curious villagers, listening in on our discussion, fascinated by what they were seeing. Zachery loved our product and asked how soon we could begin.
I then went into my spiel about what an important role his villagers would play in this pilot, and how their feedback would help shape our program going forward. They liked this. They would have to seriously answer our questions and surveys. And if they did, they would receive a lantern at the pilot’s conclusion.
We then asked to demonstrate a lantern in a home. Fina offered her two room, mud brick, tin roof home. Several of us crowded into her main room, probably 6×8 feet, no windows, and closed the door. When we turned on the Firefly, her smile turned on simultaneously. Other villagers started crowding in to see it work, and they immediately started stating every project objective we have discussed for months. I didn’t have to say a word. The most obvious use was for education as they proudly showed me the new school being built in the village.
Then other stories began: No “black nose and hurting eyes with this light.” “I don’t have to worry about knocking over my kerosene stove.” “My children can read at night” (although most huts are so dark Fireflys could be used during the day). “I walk 60 kilometers a week to get my cell phone charged (that’s 36 miles a week – 3 roundtrips of 12 miles by Fina our host – at a cost of 25 cents per charge). Now I can spend more time in the fields growing and harvesting.” “I spend $4 a month on candles for light and $5 a month on kerosene. This will save me so much money!”
And the stories continued of how this will make life easier for them. I couldn’t have written a better script. Just wish Matt and Howard from LPK had been there! I took scores of photos and hopefully got some we can use on the website. Everybody asks about our website.
To conclude, we’ve got a solid partner in WCS, we have a near perfect pilot site, and there is a true need for what we’re offering. I can’t imagine a better beginning for BrightLight.