A student suggested that we train some of the Rwandan students to do it, and help them set up social enterprises, so that they can help themselves, and create jobs at the same time. That is an excellent idea. In fact, it is something that we have been trying to do. This year, we have 7 students from University of Rwanda and another 7 young people from Gicaca associated with AEE working with the Solar power team.
We train them to do soldering, install the wiring in the houses, setup the solar panels on the roof of the charging stations, and install the more complex circuits to charge 5 batteries at the same time.
Last year, after we left, the local youths managed to wire up 40 houses under the guidance of AEE. One lady managed to move the complete wiring system from the house we installed it in to a new house that she bought. So we know that we can teach these skills. That is also why we brought in the students from University of Rwanda this year. We are hoping that, with a higher level of education and better English in general, they may be able to make even better use of the skills we teach them. Both the Gicaca youths and the U Rwanda students are learning fast, and in many situations, are performing even better than my own students. So we are hopeful that we are making some progress in transferring the skills to make it a truly local enterprise.
However, there are still many challenges that have to be overcome, before this can come a local enterprise.
Firstly there is the cost of the solar panels and the controllers. The solar panels are relatively inexpensive in Hong Kong and China, where they are manufactured. It probably costs USD 300 to buy them in Hong Kong., to set up one charging station. But they are much more expensive here in Rwanda, probably because of the transportation costs and the profits of the middlemen.
Then there is the more intangible skills of setting up and managing a business. The local young people generally have a secondary school level of education, and do not have the business skills required. The University of Rwanda students are better educated but they live in the city. It is not easy for them to travel to mountainous areas such as Gicaca.
AEE has experience in helping people to start small businesses, but generally related to farming, not in technical fields. And they are stretched very thin in supporting the thousands of self-help groups, education, reconciliation, and other missions.
Then there is the matter of finance. The local youths, the University of Rwanda students, and even AEE are all struggling under severe financial pressure. Where is the finance coming from for the start up of these small business?
We have not lost hope despite the frustration and challenges. Far from it. Some students commented that we should focus on the ones that we can help, and not to agonise over those we cannot yet help. That is certainly wise. We cannot solve the complete problem in one go. But if we are determined and keep working on it, we will be making bigger and bigger impact. I am glad to have these young people as my students.