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Let there be light
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Let there be light

solar lantern

Goodbye kerosene lamps and candles, hello solar-powered lanterns. Communities in Rwanda are lighting up with cheap, clean energy sources, thanks to people like Alice Mukashyaka. Promise Forsuh, a 22-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Bamenda, Cameroon, spoke to the 2019 Commonwealth Youth Awards finalist about her bright initiative.

Alice Mukashyaka and Ariane Umuringa started their company, Starlight, in 2016. They help replace kerosene lamps with locally-made solar-powered lanterns in rural homes, schools and refugee camps. The lanterns are 60 percent cheaper than kerosene lamps and candles. They are also safer to use because of the lower risk of fire, and are environmentally friendly.

Starlight operates a women-led business model; recruiting, training and supporting local women to sell and distribute the solar lamps and become clean-energy micro-entrepreneurs.

Similarities in Alice and Ariane’s pasts were what motivated them to start Starlight. “I was inspired by my own story, ” says Alice. “I was born and raised in a rural community without electricity. We used to have one kerosene lamp in our entire home. Buying kerosene cost my mother a lot of money – almost half of her monthly income.

“Although I was very young, I started dreaming of doing something for my community. Then I met my friend and co-founder in university and we both got the idea to bring change to our community. This is how Starlight came to light.”

solar lantern
Solar lanterns by Starlight are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than kerosene

Starting was not easy for Alice, not least because of discouragement from her own family. “Most of the time your family does not trust you when you are very young, and no one is doing what you are doing. But I tried to overcome this because I knew what I wanted to do.”

Starlight does not focus only on selling solar lanterns. Alice said: “We train youths, secondary school graduates between ages 20-35, and rural women, who help in the distribution process.”

Starlight has also started a STEM initiative in secondary schools to encourage students to explore circuitry and to develop technical skills. The aim is to empower Rwanda’s youth, especially young women, to become a part of the sustainable energy solution.

Alice and Ariane have more ideas up their sleeves. “We put the demands of our customers at the forefront, so the product keeps changing according to the demands of the customers. We are working on the second version of the product – we want to add a USB charging option and Bluetooth,” says Alice.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed – Starlight has attracted interest from well-wishers. “We received part of our investment from organisations such as These Numbers Have Faces, Global Innovation Through Science and Technology, The Baobab Network, and the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT).”

Alice and Ariane’s initiative has attracted interest and support

Starlight was also among the top three in the Ideas for Action 2018 competition organised by the World Bank and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This has created more interest in the company and led to some financial support.

The social entrepreneur urges young people to get out of their comfort zones and to challenge the status quo.

“Come join me in the journey and take risks to implement all the great ideas you have” is the message Alice has for young people who have ideas on social and climate smart projects which could benefit their communities.

Alice and Ariane’s solar-powered lanterns have been in the market for three years now. They are looking forward to a bright future for Rwanda where no family ever has to use kerosene lamps. But not just in Rwanda, Starlight also plans to scale up to bring light to neighbouring countries.

The Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work highlights the contributions of young people who are making a difference in their communities and celebrates their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About me: I am a graduate with a first degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from National Polytechnic University Institute Bamenda. My ambition is to become a celebrity journalist or a great Public and International Relations Practitioner. I am interested in writing for both print and broadcast, not only doing journalistic writing, but fiction as well. Presently, I work as a volunteer for SOPECAM as a journalist in my country.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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