By Jarrah Kawusu-Konte, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Sustainable renewable solar energy has been identified as an alternative source of energy and as pivotal to the realization of government’s commitment to electrify every city and district headquarter, every home and business, village and chiefdom in Sierra Leone.
In pursuit of this, President Ernest Bai Koroma recently commissioned the Barefoot Women Solar Power Training Centre at Konta Line, Koya Chiefdom, Port Loko District. The initiative sought to empower women technicians (see photo of women with president Koroma) to collaborate with the Government of Sierra Leone and their Indian partners to provide more affordable electricity for rural communities. The idea is part of government’s strategy to deliver clean and renewable energy on the doorsteps of rural homes and businesses.
According to President Koroma, when he assumed office in 2007, he immediately got to work to ensure peace and quiet prevail in the country. “My first priority was to provide electricity in the country as we were ashamed of the description that Sierra Leone had the darkest capital city in the world”, the president said, adding that he promised to provide electricity in 100 days and delivered it in record time.
President Koroma was very much upbeat about his government’s efforts to deal with electricity since 2007. “As a government we believe that energy has an important role to play in the socio-economic development of the country. That’s why when we talk about energy we should not limit it to Freetown alone. Because of our determination we decided to expand our vision for energy in Sierra Leone to the provinces and on Tuesday, we would be launching the Bankasoka Mini Hydro in Port Loko. Our target is to make energy accessible and affordable to the rural poor,” the President noted.
He also emphasized that, “We decided to establish an institution to train more women after the intervention of Mr Bunker Roy’s group, to ensure we reduce the cost of flying women overseas to train. What does this training college tell us? It tells us that even those women who are illiterates can be of use to the development of this country. We believe that we are a common man and woman’s party, and as such, we decided to support the Barefoot project to enhance the efforts and standing of the women in Sierra Leone.”
The president observed that since the college can only make provision for about fifty students, the centre needed to be expanded and replicated across the country. “We want to see you servicing all the 149 chiefdoms in the country. On average, each chiefdom has about 150 villages. I want to ensure almost all chiefdoms are electrified by the time I leave office in 2017”, he said, amidst thunderous applause and jubilation.
According to the Chief Solar Technician, Nancy Kanu, “We were trained at the Barefoot College at Tilonia, India. Our training centre is the only College/Training centre built out of the initiative of rural poor illiterate women. The centre is meant for the poor and only for the poor, and it’s the only college in Sierra Leone that is fully solar electrified”.
Edward Anaque, the General Secretary of the Barefoot Women Solar Engineers Association, reaffirmed their commitment to work with marginalized, exploited and impoverished rural poor women and youth living on less than one dollar a day. “Our aim is to lift them with dignity and self respect over the poverty line, that’s why we do not sign any contract with people who want to work in the college. The working relationship more or less depends on mutual trust and faith. Everyone is a volunteer, sir”, Mr Anaque said.