Solar Cellphone Sisters

Group A is seating in a circle around me. All six of them look fantastic. Confident, happy and as always highly engaged in our meetings which go from intense to silly then back again. They are sipping sodas, a gift from Marc. We are sitting on plastic chairs under a shady peaked grass roof in the courtyard of a new guest house. We are about 8 km from the city centre.

Our new meeting place is more convenient for them. For the price of a soda each (300 tsh = $.20), we can stay as long as we want. I miss sitting under the mango tree at our old meeting place, risking a head injury if the wind blew one down onto your head.

In the courtyard under the intense sunshine are two small bright pink solar panels that could fit in a pocket. A zawadi kidogo (zee-wah-dee kee-doh-goh, small gift) from me. An addition to the project, cellphone charging at the meetings.  A little bonus for coming to meetings since most of the women don’t have electricity.

Two of the women are selected to take them home and play with them. The women agree that if they work, a customer might pay 300 shillings for a recharge at the market. Having run the numbers on this business, there was little hope that the solar panels would last long enough to pay off any investment. A gift it is then… no need to seek a return on investment.

Later that week, one of the panels comes back to us. It isn’t working! From the story told we suspect  the woman was trying to use it indoors. The concept of solar energy was not completely understood however the need to keep the cellphone safe from wind and rain was. We tested it, straighten it all out and send the charger back.


Lesson learnt: Don’t assume and don’t rush the translating.

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