June 22, 2010 -- In Kenya's Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, soccer is so popular a sport that children, lacking proper equipment, kick around makeshift balls of plastic bags and string. Groups of 20 people or more crowd around one radio just to hear the names of their favorite players.
But without electricity, many of Kibera's 1 million residents have never seen their prized sport's premiere event – the World Cup.
This year, however, thanks to a non-profit project that teaches youth about solar technology, Kibera's soccer fans have the chance to watch World Cup games live from South Africa for the very first time.
"It is a big excitement. They are really happy and excited that they can watch it," said Joshiah Ramogi, executive director of Solafrica.ch, the Switzerland-based non-profit group behind the youth project. "The idea is not only to show the World Cup, but to show what solar power is all about."
A Greenpeace spin-off founded by Ramogi, Solafrica.ch not only aims to give the low-income residents of Kibera a clean and cheap form of energy, it also trains the community's young people so that they can find employment and earn money.
"They get out of crime because, most of them, if they don't have anything to do they involve themselves in crime," he said.
Trained Youth Assemble, Repair Solar Products for Community
Through the Kibera Youth Solar Project, Ramogi said Solafrica.ch acquires materials from Switzerland and then trains Kibera youth to assemble and repair solar technology.
At this point, he said the youth are given the start-up capital in the form of materials and training. In a couple of years, he hopes the project can be self-sustaining.
The group's first goal was to convince Kibera residents to replace their environmentally toxic and fire-prone kerosene lamps with cleaner, sustainable solar lamps, he said. Instead of paying $1 a week for kerosene, Ramogi said, families pay $1 toward the $40 solar lamps. In about nine months, he said, they've paid off the new lamp without any added expense.
As opposed to Chinese solar products that fall apart after a couple of years and then end up littering the community, he said that if something goes wrong and the lamps break, the project's youth repair the lamps. So far, about 30 youths have assembled about 400 solar lamps for Kibera.
To Watch World Cup, TV Hooked Up to Solar Station
Last year, Ramogi said, Kibera youth installed a solar home system for President Barack Obama's grandmother, who lives in Kenya and is known locally as "Mama Sarah."
But Ramogi said the group has even bigger ambitions.
To deliver the World Cup games to Kibera, he said, Solafrica hooked up a television set and projector to a solar power station that consists of photovoltaic solar panels and batteries. After about six hours, he said, the batteries are fully charged and can support 6 to 10 hours of TV-watching time. The solar box can also power lights and charge cell phones and other small devices.
After the World Cup, Ramogi said, Solafrica will encourage schools to adopt the solar boxes, which provide a more reliable source of energy than the hydropower widely used across Kenya.
Eventually, he said, he hopes to reach even more communities across sub-Saharan Africa, where experts estimate that more than 500 million people don't have access to electricity.
Billy Ochieng, 27, one ofthe local participants of the Kibera project, said that each World Cup game powered by solar technology has attracted 300 to 500 residents.
"At first, people thought it was normal electricity," he said. "We told people that it was being powered purely by solar. When we showed them, a lot of people were excited. … People were surprised that the TV was powered by solar alone. It was a pleasant surprise."
Ochieng, who grew up around Kibera, said the area not only lacks running water, electricity and other basic facilities, but crime, prostitution, disease and unemployment are rampant.
"We hope that through this public thing we can bring people together and in some ways bring peace," he said.