The first night in Godjiboué it was pouring down. In many ways washing away the old and the morning felt like a brand new start. I fell asleep to the sound of a generator powering a fridge in one of the neighbor’s houses. Although I understand the need for it, and am happy for the increased quality of life for that person, I cannot help to think of the future and that I believe we need to find other solutions rather than such energy sources. Refrigerators are one of the most commonly asked for a product that people in the village would like to have access to. Solar refrigerators exist, but there is still a need to develop the technology so that they can be offered in a larger scale for a reasonable price. It strikes me that bringing light is just the first small step of what is needed for the future. Since demand will not stop, rather increase, how can we develop the technologies within solar energy so that this can be a stable, reliable energy source that covers our needs? And not only our immediate need of light and charging our phones, but the need and wish for a comfortable life with refrigerator, TV, radio, and computers, that we can rely on even when the sun is not shining.
The most important objective for this field visit was to close the project that has now been running for a year as planned. We realize now how much we have learned. From the ability and willingness for people to pay to the daily challenges in the village stretching far beyond lighting. But also have giving access to light can be the first stepping stone in the development of a community.
We started the day by having a meeting with the people responsible for following-up on the project in the village. They gave us a record of their experiences and challenges in surveying the project so that we can learn from their hands-on experience in the project. Unfortunately, not everyone has been willing to pay for the solar panel, meaning that we had to confiscate some of them. Although this is harsh and a situation we did not want to end up in, we deem it important to honor the contract we set out and that it would not be just to let people that did not pay for the equipment keep it, for all the people who actually have paid in full and respected the repayment plan. We also conducted customer feedback surveys so that we can learn what they like and do not like about the project and what we can improve on for the future.
When we were about to start the work of visiting our clients, collecting some kits and getting feedback from others, the wind started picking up. We did not mind much until it really started getting bad and soon enough it was pouring down again. We had to wait for about an hour before we could go out. Life in the village can be slow and you always have to have a lot of patience with everything you do.
The following two days we spent, going around from customer to customer to get their feedback on the project and products. Many said that one of the things they like the most about the lamps is that they work and get charged even though it is raining. This is especially important in the raining season. Another important feedback was that it was easier to pay back for the product in larger parts when they actually had money, rather than the set monthly fee that we planned for (and did not work out).
It was with a bittersweet sentiment that I boarded the local bus, heading back to Lakota where the car was waiting for us (since the roads are in such a poor condition we decided to park it in a bigger city and not take the chance to drive on the off-piste road). Looking back as we left the village, I realized that most likely it is the last time I am visiting (at least for a very long time). Godjiboué and its people have thought me (and Wattero) so much and we are forever grateful for being invited to launch our first project here with all the ups and downs it has involved. We hope that providing light to some of the inhabitants can be the first step in further development and that it will enable and empower the ones owning it. Thank you to everyone in Godjiboué and the surrounding areas for your hospitality and opening your doors for us.