My very first visit to Africa, marked the beginning for more installations of solar powered infrastructure to come in the nearest future by Elpis Solar, the student-led initiative co-founded in 2017 in Edinburgh university by Samuel Kellerhals and myself. My short stay at Rwanda was proven a great learning journey, as apart from piloting new bespoke solar powered mobile stations and water-filtration schemes in refugee communities, I experienced the diverse culture of both urban and rural Rwanda. Visiting first the highly developed capital, Kigali, a vibrant city, aiming to become Africa’s financial hub of innovation allowed me to see how the vision to transform lives and offer opportunities comes into play. Kigali is the greenest city in Africa, as the use of plastic has been banned, a very welcoming capital where community building, coexistence and promotion of reconciliation/peace and prosperity are amongst the top priorities.
Upon arrival, I got welcomed by Fidele Gisore a regional consultant working with Challenges Worldwide, an Edinburgh based international development agency with presence in country, whose contribution to the implementation of our project in Mahama camp, the largest refugee community in the country was vital. Apart from showing us around, touring the local markets and introducing us to spots where locals hang out, we got to plan out our visit to Kirehe district, 3.5 hours away from Kigali where the installation of our solar powered infrastructure took place. After receiving the necessary permissions for camp visits by UNHCR, the ministry of migration and camp authorities we headed towards the boarders with Tanzania, near Akagera river where the camp is located. The road trip allowed us to explore a different aspect of Rwanda, going through more rural and often off-grid areas, nonetheless beautiful and unique savannah landscapes.
Heading into the unknown, comes with great uncertainty. Organising logistics and bringing a truck of solar components to an area we had never visited in the past, was proven more difficult than initially thought. However, despite any initial concerns and small obstacles along the way, what kept us going was our motivation to execute the project, bringing essential services such as access to electricity and clean water to those needing it the most. However, none of the above would have been possible without the help of Matt Brokenshire, the regional coordinator from Challenges Worldwide and Fidele, who literally opened their homes to us, introducing us to the local culture, making this trip as pleasant as possible. I am grateful for their support and help, as well as thankful to have received the go abroad fund, without which none of the above would have been possible.
Finally, what I keep from this unique trip are some moments of joy after overcoming difficulties with the installation process, as well as happy moments with kids running around us ‘the Mzungus (white people)’ as they called us with their cheerful faces. Overall a feeling of appreciation for this great experience stays in mind, having talked to people in the camp who have fled their countries due to their political believes, but still show great will and perseverance to live peacefully and upgrade their standard of living in one way or another. For me this trip was an eye-opening experience, as I saw first hand the demand for solar-powered services in remote settings. I hope to be able to come back and offer some more, even in the simplest way.