China Daily : Empowering the last mile community in Africa

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2022-09-28 22:39

Michael Arochi, a teacher at the Shelter Hope Spring Star Academy, which is part of the Shelter Children’s Home teaches a class using a solar media tablet. 

Lack of electricity and internet has left African communities living in rural and remote areas without proper knowledge and skills to improve their lives and livelihoods, consequently increasing poverty levels.

However, Shenzhen Solar Run, a Chinese social enterprise in partnership with their Kenyan counterpart, Mama Layla, are seeking to change this narrative through empowering the last mile population across the continent.

Towards that end, the enterprises have created a solar powered multifunctional system with a tablet that contains preloaded content.

Dubbed solar media initiative, the programme aims to create sustainable solutions to challenges in the education sector, agriculture, health, and skills development by empowering communities with knowledge and skills.

The Solar Media system also includes a portable solar panel, a mobile charging power bank, and four LED bulbs.

Li Xia, the founder of Shenzhen Solar Run conceived the idea of solar media at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watching her children study online smoothly because there is access to power and internet in China, she kept thinking about the plight of the millions of children in Africa, where she has been selling solar products from the bottom of the pyramid for the last 13 years.

Aware of the impossibility of online learning in Africa’s last mile communities due to lack of electricity and internet, she decided to design a product that will enable learners to access education without internet and electricity requirement as well as empower communities to earn a living, this gave birth to the solar media tablet.

A search for an enterprise to help in implementing the project landed Li to Mama Layla, located in Kenya’s Kajiado County in the southwest of the capital Nairobi.

Mama Layla is housed by Shelter Children’s Home that owns a primary school and an organic farm, making it an ideal place to pilot the project.

“I’m excited to see how solar media content is impacting people’s lives like increasing their agricultural productivity. If farmers increase their productivity, the country will not have to import food,” Li said.

Through the project, Li plans to impact at least 50, 000 households as well as build an ecosystem, to ensure the system works automatically.

She said plans are underway to set up an after-sales-service center and regional centers to ensure variety of content suitable for specific regions.

Patrick, a farm supervisor at Shelter Children’s Home, said through the solar media, he has learned how to plant, grow, and harvest onions professionally, thus increasing productivity.

“I have also learned how to identify plant pests and diseases and how to treat them properly,” he said.

Jamlick Mutwiri, who oversees the beekeeping at the children’s home, said through the solar media, he has acquired a lot of knowledge and skills on professional bee keeping.

This includes bee biology, honeybee nutrition, hive management, and how to detect and control honeybee pests and diseases.

Mutwiri who holds a diploma in agriculture has fallen in love with bee keeping and is now considering specializing in the activity. He has been using the solar media since he joined the enterprise in 2020.

He harvests the honey every three months. When the weather systems are favorable, he harvests a total of 150 kilograms of honey from 91 beehives but during the drought period, the harvest reduces to between 40 and 60 kilograms per harvest. The honey is sold at $7 per kilogram to the neighboring communities.

Hanif Poona, the chief executive officer at Mama Layla, said Kenya has about five million unemployed youth, who they are targeting in skills development so that they can start small businesses to sustain themselves.

“We want to empower the last mile to have better nutrition, grow better crops, and have better production so that they can have enough for their consumption and income,” he said.

“The disabled community in Kenya sometimes have no access to education, we want to take education to them so that they have an equal learning opportunity.”

Patrick, a farm supervisor at Shelter Children’s Home, gets instruction via solar media on how to identify pests on onion plants. [Edith Mutethya/China Daily]

Noting that farmers may not be able to afford the solar media, he said his enterprise looks for donors, who supply content and pay some amount for it after which the media is donated to farmers.

“We partner with international organizations like Syngenta, international and local banks, insurance companies, animal feed dealers, seed producers, technical industrial vocational, and entrepreneurship training institutions and medical companies,” Poona said.

He said after every content, contacts are provided so that beneficiaries can seek further clarifications, adding that people can watch the content repeatedly until they fully understand.

Poona said plans are underway to launch the project in Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda, with an aim to cover the entire continent in future.

Kelvin Lillan , the principal of Kenswed Vocational Training Center, one of the project content creators, said the institution plans to have a cloud school, where students can access education from anywhere.

“We provide content like hairdressing, pastry content, computer programming, and entrepreneurship among others,” he said.