Yes We Can!

Mama Obama Loves Solar Power

Feature story - June 8, 2011
It’s not just Barack Obama who says "yes we can", it’s his granny’s mantra too -- but when Grandma Sarah Anyango Obama says it, she’s speaking about solar energy.

Mama Sara Obama praises solar power in Kenya

Mama Sara Obama, the US President's grandmother, flicks on the lights in her home where a Greenpeace team installed a solar power system in 2009. © Greenpeace / Richard Dobson

Mama Sarah is not just a community activist. She’s also become one of the biggest advocates of renewable energy since solar power was installed at her home and the Senator Barack Obama School, where the Barack Obama's father grew up.

In August 2009, Greenpeace’s youth support center and organised a solar training workshop for Kenyan youths from the Kibera slums. At the end of the training the youths installed the village's solar panels, powering the community with green energy.

Mama Sarah's building a bigger house, with an extra bedroom that will be specifically reserved for the president and her grandchildren when it’s finished at the end of the year – and it will be solar powered too. But she's wondering what more renewable energy could do in the village. The Kenyan national electricity grid is terribly bad, so could a solar powered water pump be used to remedy the village's water supply problem?

Solar powering the local school has been an outstanding success! Mama Sarah says the children now wake up earlier for their morning studies, and then stay late to finish their homework. The morale of both the teachers and the children has rocketed since solar power was installed.

This example of solar success is indicative of the general success the solarisation project has enjoyed in Kenya. At the end of May, -- the Swiss offshoot of the Greenpeace-supported project -- won 5,000 Swiss francs for coming first in the Swiss Environmental Foundation’s annual competition.

The project's greatest achievement has been the training of young technicians who now produce up to 100 solar lamps a month, providing light for poor families who would otherwise be left without power when the sun sets. In Switzerland the lamps are also sold to schools and scout groups as fair trade products.

In addition to the lamps, the same technicians and their Swiss partners are working on a prototype for solar cellphone chargers, and are busy rolling out solar electricity supplies to Kenyan schools.

And the prize money they won? It’s to be spent on training Kenyan Scouts about the benefits of solar power. The Scouts will then return to their communities where they will give hope and speak about the real opportunities that solar power can provide.