By Alagie Manneh
The people of Sare Pateh have paid tribute to the Akon Lighting Africa project, three weeks after the Kombo North village became the first beneficiary in the country of a pilot phase of a project that aims to light 600 million African homes with solar energy.
Akon Lighting Africa is a project that started in 2014 by artist Akon with Samba Bathily and Thione Niang which aims to provide electricity by solar energy in Africa. Their initial technique was to install Solar street lights and small energy systems.
According to Akon, he and Thione Niang grew up in Kaolack, Senegal in a town without electricity. In 2013 both decided to help drive Africa’s transformation.
Samba Bathily joined them and provided targeted solutions through his company, Solektra INT, which supplies solar-powered equipment. By combining their networks, they launched the project in February 2014. The initiative now provides electricity in at least 14 African countries and employs over 5,000 mainly young people who install and maintain solar equipment.
It is against this backdrop that three weeks after its installation in Sare Pateh, its Gambia lighting team, Unique Solutions, last week paid a visit to see firsthand how the project is shaping precarious life’s in the village.
“A project like this creates jobs, that’s the whole idea,” Mr Papa Njie, founder and CEO of Unique Solutions told journalists in Sare Pateh.
The donated equipment consists of 20 solar street lights, life straw water filtering system for a local school, solar system for the school, a local health centre, mosque, market area and, through its partnership with Unique Solutions, a community centre equipped with a satellite TV, Internet connectivity and charging stations for mobile phones for the community of Sare Pateh.
“This is a pilot project. If the trial succeeds, every community we go to, we will be able to provide jobs. It opens doors for so many things,” Mr Njie said.
The goal of the Akon Lighting Africa initiative is to provide solutions to the energy crisis in Africa through innovative, clean and accessible solar solutions, including street lamps, home-based solar kits, pre-paid micro-grids, lamps and recharge stations.
The initiative envisages reaching every home without a light and hopes to create over 1000 jobs in the country. The first phase, which is the pilot project, seeks to reach at least 15000 homes, officials said.
Alieu Sowe, a caretaker of a video club in the village brought by the initiative, defined the project as “nice and good”, adding that they only pray for more of the same projects.
“Before, not so many people know about Sare Pateh,” Mr Sowe observed. “With the coming of this project, everything changed.
“When you benefit from things you never have before in your life, you always want more.”
For his namesake Alieu Suwareh, a shop keeper and a barber, the project has already, within this short space of time, up the status of the village.
“We really thank God for that,” Suwareh said.
He explained that the people of the village travel many kilometres whenever they need to cut their hair, but that too, he said, will soon be a thing of the past.
“The project brought light into my shop, all we need now is a socket to plug in, compared to before when people had to travel out or when I had to use a comb to barb people’s hair.”
Delo Ba, a native of the community and member of the Village Development Committee, said the project came as a ‘pleasant surprise’.
He said his community was really in need of rescue prior to the coming of the project, defining it as timely.
“Our community is on the part of joining the global world. In the long term, it will generate employment and income. With those incomes, we can channel them into other things to benefit our people. “
According to Delo, the project has already galvanised and brought back ‘happy life’ into the lives of the villagers.
“Yes, that is true because we were able to host several different political rallies that lasted for many hours. That wouldn’t have been possible without the street lights. It used to be total darkness here, not anymore.”
Delo is hopeful that the project, and his village, whose large number of natives go out on a daily basis in search of jobs, will soon be able to sustain his people and generate revenues.
“With proceeds from our video club and other facilities, we hope to create a cultural centre. Jamwelly as you can see is a beautiful place for tourists, so we hope to build something beautiful,” he said.
Demba Bah, the Alkalo of the village, was eager to highlight the effects of the project after only three weeks of its installation. The Alkalo said since its coming, and with his village lighting up from top to bottom, the significance of the initiative may not be enough to put into words.
Bah, an old man who has been Alkalo for close to 50-years, said everything has changed since three weeks ago.
“Young people from neighbouring villages, too, come here on a daily basis in their numbers, and stayed late into the night, all that possible because of this project. The people of the village pray for its sustenance.
The old man said he recalled a boring and blackout Sare Pateh, and returned gratitude to the bringers of the ‘life-changing project.’
“In those days, people are always indoors. Now, though, even little children are eager to be sent out at night, knowing the streets are fully safe with lights everywhere, so yes this project has changed a lot of things.
“So we thanked them, all of them. A lot. From Akon to Mr Njie and his entire entourage for the bringing life back to our village.”
He promised to safeguard the project, saying in his village, nobody goes to sleep as they jealously guard a rare benefit that doesn’t come by easy in today’s world.