Nelly Bassily | June 6, 2011
Screwdriver in hand, Doussou Konaté unscrews a broken solar lantern. She patiently cross-checks the cables. And within a few moments, it is fixed. Mrs. Konaté has never attended school. But two years ago she was one of seven Senegalese women who travelled to India to be trained as a solar power engineer at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan.
Power outages occur regularly in Senegal. They have even triggered street riots in cities.
But when darkness falls in the small village of Keur Simbara, 76 kilometres from Dakar, the lights come on. Mrs. Konaté, a 57-year-old mother of six, is known locally as the “light woman.” With a bright smile, she says, “When night falls, everybody lights up their lamp and you can go anywhere you wish because everything is clear. It is just wonderful.”
After six months in India, Mrs. Konaté returned to set up domestic lighting in Keur Simbara and the neighbouring village of Keur Daouda. Fifty households have now been equipped with solar panels, a fixed lamp, a solar lantern, an LED flashlight and a plug for charging cell phones. The system provides four hours of electricity per day. Neither village has ever been connected to the national power grid.
Mrs. Konaté explains the benefits of electricity: “This is very important for the children who go to school. Before, they had to hurry to do their homework while the sun was still up. or study using candles and torches. But now they can study at any time of the day, even at night.”
But the benefits of the light Mrs. Konaté has brought to her community go beyond the power of electricity. Villagers say her new skills have enlightened many about the importance of equal access to education for girls and boys, particularly in science and technology.
Demba Diawara is the chief of Keur Simbara. He says, “It shows that what is important is not whether a person is a man or woman; it is their motivation, dedication and confidence in achieving what they set out to obtain.” He adds, “That is why education is valuable for boys and for girls.”
Each household participating in the solar electrification scheme pays a monthly fee, half of which pays for maintenance of the solar panels and lanterns. Mrs. Konaté, who used to be a housewife and subsistence millet farmer, now has a regular monthly income of about $60.
Tostan is the non-governmental organization that is implementing the solar project in Senegal. Khalidou Sy is Tostan’s national coordinator. He says, “Five other women are getting set to travel to India to become solar power engineers. [They will] return to their communities to train other women, and there will be electricity everywhere.”
For more information on Tostan’s solar power project, visit:
To read more about Mrs. Konaté, visit:
The website of the Barefoot College in India: