It’s a question that’s plagued NGOs for decades: How do we tackle some of Africa’s biggest challenges, like energy access, water access, and proper health services?

While many community projects are planned and started from outside and then fed into a given community, Greenpeace’s ‘Climate Caravan’ is different.

In planning its rollout, Christian Gyr, project coordinator, and his team of local organisations realised that they had to take a different approach by putting a local perspective and community issues at the heart. Not doing so could understandably make community members feel skeptical of new comers who preach solutions without first understanding the local context.

So in consultation with residents, the Climate Caravan, Solafrica, and a host of local organisations began a project that would not only solve the community’s problems of energy access, but also two other issues identified by residents: access to clean water and health care.

Active since 2009 in 15 villages in northern and central Cameroon, the initiative is now completing its solar energy phase after two years of hard work.

Organizers offered three weeks of theoretical and practical training on solar energy, climate change, and sustainable development, enabling residents to install and maintain solar power equipment on their own.

Community members were also taught to build clay and metal stoves from scratch, which helped reduce their use of forest wood for cooking and heating. The result? Households are using between 50 and 70% less wood than before, which works out to about 900 kgs per household, or 2,500 tons saved every year by 2,700 households.

In the first year 37 participants were given solar training, 33 communities were visited by the project, and a total of 1 155 special ovens were built.

Thirty young people (from Cameroon and the DR of Congo) participated in the training and received internationally recognised diplomas. Three-hundred solar systems, with a total power of 19 000 watts, were installed and these were partly financed by local residents.

Overall, the project has been very successful in terms of engaging with grassroots communities, empowering them through training, environmental solutions, and tools. Working with private and public partners, the program provided training for community solar energy technicians, who can now solve problems as they happen on the ground. In addition, traditional knowledge was recognised and combined with the latest technology.

It has seen the end of one problem, energy access, and community members now look forward to the water access phase of the project.

Keep watching this space for more updates, and if you'd like to join our energy campaign to push for more renewable energy in Africa, sign up here.