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[YAOUNDE] Two female solar technicians — semi-illiterate grandmothers trained in solar electrification in India — are now installing panels to provide light in a remote village in Cameroon.

Munyengue Trouble, situated behind Mount Cameroon and not on the national electricity grid, is one of the first Cameroonian villages to access electricity from solar panels installed by the elderly rural women to tap sunlight and convert it into light.

Nelly Shella Yonga Tchaptchuet, coordinator of the Rural Women Development Center (RUWDEC), says the people of Munyengue Trouble spent a lot of resources on wood, kerosene, gas and fuel for generators before her outfit launched the solar project in February 2010. 

“Through this project women are able to contribute to inclusive growth as semi-literate solar engineers.”

Marie-Laure Mpeck Nyemeck, UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme

This project was part of an exhibition on best environment practices in Yaoundé, Cameroon, last month (19 December).

“Our organisation works with women and this project provided an opportunity to use women to create an impact in their community,” explains Tchaptchuet.

Under the RUWDEC solar project, Francesca Moki and Helen Ntuengue were trained in solar electrification at the Barefoot College in India through the Small Grants Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in partnership with the college.

After studying in India for six months, the women, holders of the first school leaving certificate, learnt solar electrification.  Upon their return to their village, they assemble and mount solar panels in houses from a solar centre constructed at a cost of 2.5 million Central African CFA francs (around US$5,200).

They install kits made up of a recharge controller, the panel and battery worth about US$1,000 in each household for free.

“We know how to put each part to the other to come up with a solar lamp which is connected to the panel and battery for the lamp to charge and light three bulbs for eight hours,” says Moki.

Moki adds that more than 500 people in 98 households now have access to light, attracting business, a booming night market and helping children read their books in the evenings.

Marie-Laure Mpeck Nyemeck, coordinator of the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme, presented the project at the UNDP Regional Week on Knowledge and Innovation in South Africa on 4 December 2013 where it emerged second out of the 51 entries.

Nyemeck tells SciDev.Net: “Through this project women are able to contribute to inclusive growth as semi-literate solar engineers”.

She adds that the project has changed lives, attitudes, community perceptions and encouraged South-South cooperation.

Najat Rochdi, UN Resident Representative in Cameroon, says: “We are going to discuss with RUWDEC on how to move the project forward and possibly scale it to other regions”.

Tchaptchuet adds that because the solar panel is limited to eight hours a day, the project is not enough for the community to watch TV, use fridges and laptops and acknowledges the need to do more to provide electricity for rural Cameroon.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.