Samsam's Renewable World road trip in Kenya
This year, I embarked on a 3-day road trip to the countryside in southern Kenya with my videographer, Abraham, and Renewable World's project leader, Benson.
Our mission: visit 2 of 4 remote healthcare centres that serve tens of thousands of local Maasai people, where Renewable World is working with the local community to instal life-saving solar power for the first time. Join my journey through rural Kenya and witness solar's transformative power.
Hi I'm Samsam, I've worked at Octopus Energy for the past five years, and lived in Kenya for the past year and a half. Here's how my epic road trip with Renewable World went...
It’s 6am and I am awakened by the loud buzzing of my phone. I scramble to find it under my bed as the hot Nairobi sun streaks into my room. As soon as I answer, a cheery voice booms through the phone: ‘HI, Samsam! It’s Benson from Renewable World - so excited for our road trip to Kajiado - I’ll be at yours in 30 mins!’
A stereotypically African 60 minutes later, Benson and I are weaving through chaotic Nairobi traffic listening to gentle music from the Mombasa coast. Benson, a smile always tugging at the corners of his mouth, tells me all about the incredible work Renewable World does. He has worked for the organisation for 8 years as a Project manager, and is delighted to show me the exciting work they’re planning in Kajiado County.
I love working for Renewable World because I can see firsthand the impact we are making on the communities we help. Access to energy and healthcare is one of the biggest problems facing these communities and we get to change people’s lives’Benson
Benson and I at the start of our epic road trip
Like us, Renewable World is on a mission to make green power accessible to all.
To achieve this they have created initiatives to provide free sustainable energy solutions to empower and transform communities. In Nepal, they installed solar power systems in 15 rural clinics transforming the lives of thousands. Some of their other projects we’ve invested in include bringing clean cooking stoves to families in Rwanda and Somalia and restoring boreholes in parts of Rwanda to reduce carbon emissions and dramatically improve the lives of people in the area.
We have donated to many of their projects on behalf of our Super Green customers, who want to carbon offset their gas (as well as their electricity). For these customers, we add up their annual gas usage and donate the equivalent amount of carbon offsetting credit to Renewable World. This balances out the carbon in the atmosphere, and ensures cheap, green energy access to fuel-poor communities around the world.
Benson enthusiastically tells me all about the project:
With this particular pilot project, we are providing solar energy systems to 4 rural health care facilities in Kajiado County, with the aim of improving healthcare for over 25,000 people!’
Along the way to our first health centre, we pick up our videographer Abraham who regales us with his adventurous tales of travelling through gorgeous landscapes and war-torn countries as a freelance videographer.
So starts our journey; a 5 hour trek from Nairobi to one of the most remote parts of Kenya - just a stone's throw away from Tanzania (I must admit feeling tempted to hightail across the border for a visa-free visit to the sunny paradise).
We drove through untenable terrain, paving our own way across mountain ridges to Kajiado county to discover how solar power can transform a community.
Elkilorid Health Centre
After hundreds of miles of beautiful landscapes, with endless rolling grasslands dotted with towering flat-topped acacia trees, we arrive at the Elkilorid Health Centre. We were quickly invited to a group sit down with the doctors, locals visiting the centre and government officials supporting Renewable World. I got to chat with doctors about the challenges they face being based so remotely, and with no access to power.
I got some fascinating insight from local Maasai men and women who told me about their way of life and their experiences accessing healthcare with a lack of power. Rose, who makes her living weaving jewellery, tells me;
Women in this community face so much fear when it comes to childbirth. If your water breaks after dark, or you face complications, you and your child might not survive’
As we’re chatting with the locals, a sudden noise and blow of dust signals the arrival of the doctor, Jared, riding in coolly on his motorcycle from a home visit. The 29 year old is the only doctor at Elkilorid, one of the only health centres in Kajiado west, an area serving over 25,000 people.
I sat down with him to find out what solar power would mean for the centre. “The health centre suffers from a lack of electricity. With no lights, we have to perform life saving procedures with only phone flashlights as illumination’’ he tells me ruefully.
There have been days where I am performing child-births and difficult procedures with one hand, and holding my phone with the other so I can see'Doctor Jared
I heard harrowing and heroic tales of doctors going above and beyond to save the lives of their patients.
There was a night a lady was brought to me, heavily in labour and soon after admitting her, she started bleeding profusely. I suspected her placenta had ruptured but with no lights or proper equipment I had no way of confirming that. She needed to be transported, but my phone had died due to the lack of power so my only solution was to transport her myself. With no car, we were forced to put her on the back of my motorcycle to drive hours towards the nearest facility with power. She lost the child but thankfully her life was saved. With solar power, we will never face a situation like this again’
The lack of power poses challenges on a day to day basis, as Joseph tells me:
We are unable to buy crucial medication and vaccines as there are no fridges to store them. Due to a lack of power, we can’t even use computers to keep patient data or research better ways to support our patients or refer their care to other health centres’
Alongside a lack of x-ray or ultrasound machines, and crucial diagnostic equipment, the health centre, like others Renewable World is supporting, is not equipped to provide a good quality service to their patients.
Each person I speak to tells me how grateful they are for the work Renewable World is doing and how solar power is a life-changing measure for them. Many of the locals live simple lives, herding livestock and this centre is their only source of healthcare.
Despite the challenges they face, the group is hopeful for the future and often break out into fits of laughter watching each other being interviewed. At one point, I marvel at how Rose, who is in her 80’s could easily pass for 20 years younger. I quietly ask her secret for looking so great and she tells me it’s obvious; ‘never stop moving, and always be at one with nature!’’
Elkilorid Health Centre is one of the four clinics in rural Kenya that Renewable World will be transforming, by installing a solar system. This is desperately needed and the system will give the centre access to lights to provide 24/7 patient care, fridges and equipment for medication and other life saving capabilities.
On day two, we get up at 5am to travel the length of the county to the second health centre on our agenda; Torosei Dispensery. It’s based in a remote village up in the mountains of Kajiado county and its the only health care facility for hundreds of miles.
At around noon, we arrive at Torosei Dispensery, an old-looking but spacious building, high up in the mountains, deep in Maasai county. We receive a warm welcome from the local officials and are ushered on to a big circle of chairs in the sunny courtyard to get to know the team and local community a little better.
Our first interview of the day is with Doctor Josphat, and we observe as he quietly and confidently puts his patients at ease. He shows us around the hospital, and tells us all about his challenges they face due to the lack of power. He is the only doctor at the facility, so sleeps in a makeshift bedroom at the centre to support any emergency patients that visit late at night. To our amazement he casually tells us he is a little tired this morning as he was up most of the night due to a horde of elephants passing (again!) by the centre in search of water.
I got the chance to interview some locals who told me their personal experiences with the healthcare centre. It is the only place women can come to give birth, children can get vaccinated and elders can be examined by a doctor. Yet often, women are forced to give birth with only phone light as illumination and children are unable to be vaccinated as there are no fridges to keep the vaccines.
I sought out some locals to get a first-hand understanding of their experience:
The first time I gave birth was traumatising. I was brought to the hospital in the middle of the night and there was one weak flashlight in the corner. There were unexpected complications and I lost the baby. I came back here to give birth to my other children and thankfully those births went well. But the risks are huge’M
I brought my son to this health centre after a horrible accident and he had to have surgery. They didn’t have many resources available but they did everything they could and I’m grateful for that’.R
This centre, like the other 3 centres chosen for this project, fulfil a crucial role in their respective communities. For thousands, this is the only care available to them and too often, it's the difference between life and death.
Other organisations have tried to start similar solar power projects but with no continued funding for maintenance or upkeep, the systems quickly go into disrepair. Renewable World is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen here. Benson makes it clear to me that sustainability is the single most important thing to Renewable World.
What sets Renewable World apart is our focus on sustainability. Alongside the local government, we’re dedicated to funding and ensuring the project remains a success, and scaling this project to clinics all across Kenya’
On our final day, we got up early at our hotel in Kajiado town determined to discover more about Kajiado. We visited the busy market and got to know the local community a little better. One particularly friendly woman selling fresh produce demanded I take her son’s phone number as he was looking for a 3rd wife; ‘He already has two wives, that means he is well-trained and women like him - give him a call!’
Admittedly, the logic is foolproof.
Having lived in Kenya for the past year and a half, I am always struck by the open hearted friendliness and warm welcome wherever you go. This road trip provided a fascinating insight into life in rural Kenya, and the challenges that come with a life spent in the dark.
From hearing first-hand about the experiences of a traditional Maasai woman to the doctor’s harrowing and heroic stories, I was struck by the depth of experiences in this small rural area.
Most of all, I was struck by the determination and calm acceptance with which each person dedicated themselves to caring for others, by whichever means they had available.
Before we leave, I take a moment to sit down with local official Laido to discuss the governments connection to Renewable World.
‘Poverty, a lack of power and access to healthcare are issues that plague millions of Kenyans, particularly those in rural areas such as Kajiado county. Organisations like Renewable World are crucial if we want to solve these issues’.
Kenya is home to the continent’s largest wind farm and the electricity supply is currently around 75% powered by clean, renewable energy. Many are turning to solar energy and it’s not uncommon to see solar panels and mini grids installed on shanty huts or even solar powered umbrellas powering motorcycles as incredible innovative and affordable solutions. But solar power is still not accessible to all.
A lack of resources in health care facilities have led to high incidences of maternal and child mortality as well as a high number of infectious diseases such as TB and Malaria. These issues are significantly impacted by a lack of power, dramatically reducing the quality and access to reliable healthcare.
For the thousands of Maasai people desperate for emergency procedures, birth support and covid vaccines, the assurance of reliable power will be life-saving.
Renewable World’s dedication to providing power where there is none, is projected to make a massive life-saving impact in maternal and child health care as well as treatments and diagnoses that require fridges and equipment.
I’ll be visiting again in a few months, once the solar installation systems have been completed to see first-hand how this community is transformed.
Keep an eye out for part two...
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