In 2009, seven Senegalese women traveled to Barefoot College in India, where they spent six months learning how to install, maintain, and repair solar panels as part of Tostan’s Solar Power Project. Since then, they have established and maintained solar units in their communities, in turn providing light to villages not connected to the national electricity grid.
In February 2013, these seven solar engineers, each from a different Senegalese community, came together in the village of Keur Simbara, Senegal for four days to participate in a solar power workshop. This workshop organized by Tostan not only gave the women the opportunity to meet up with those who had been their classmates at Barefoot College, but offered them a valuable chance to exchange ideas, challenges, and solutions to help them with their work.
The workshop involved practical exercises as well as discussion. After a short introductory session, the first day was spent examining how solar power is employed in Keur Simbara. Doussou Konaté, one of the engineers taking part in the workshop, demonstrated how she installed solar power in a building made of straw as well as one made with cement and in the community’s small health post. The other women were able to compare this set-up to that of their home communities.
On the second day of training, the group headed to the village of Kobongoye in the Fatick region of Senegal in order to repair broken tools in the workshop of Mame Diarra Aïdara, one of the solar engineers. Working together, the seven engineers managed to fix Mama Diarra’s tools as well as the village chief’s broken solar lamps. The women then inspected Mame Diarra Aïdara’s solar workshop to make sure everything was in working order.
The third day brought yet more practical work as the women collaborated to repair stationary lamps, mobile lamps, and chargers. Representatives from several local and national press agencies joined the group on this day for a press conference and were also taken to see the solar panels in action.
During the final day of the workshop, the engineers were given record sheets written in each of their local languages. This record system will allow them to keep track of solar power installations in their communities as well as aiding the Solar Power Project manager, Dame Guèye, in evaluating the program’s impact in future.
The group of engineers then went together to a local hardware store to stock up on spare parts for their communities. Each woman had already prepared a list of the parts that she needed that cannot be found in Senegalese markets so that Tostan could order the parts at the hardware store.
Finally, the engineers, along with Dame Guèye, discussed next steps and made several important decisions. These decisions concerned how much the engineers should be compensated by their communities monthly for their work, how much money should be put towards each community’s solar power fund monthly by the community, and how much to charge for charging one’s cell phone at the solar powered cell phone charging stations. These decisions helped to standardize solar power fees across the communities where the women live and work.
The engineers and project manager declared the workshop in Keur Simbara a great success. Throughout the four very busy days, both the solar engineers and the Tostan project manager gained a great deal of helpful information, which will undoubtedly contribute to the ongoing success of the Solar Power Project.