The Impact of Solar on Ethiopian Classrooms: Findings From Save the Children

There’s a proverb in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which describes how one little thing can be many big things to many people at the same time.

“Be’ānidi dinigayi huleti wefi.”

The closest translation in English is “killing two birds with one stone.”

This is how the people of Afar, Ethiopia, explained how they see the 498 Little Sun lamps that were brought to the 16 schools of their remote, pastoral community last year: a little thing with benefits that have rippled out to affect the whole community.

It was part of our program in Ethiopia called POWER TO READ. We’ve been partnering with NGOs like Save the Children with programs such as PAGES (Pastoralist Afar Girls Education Support) over this past year, to bring light to the classrooms of rural Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan countries, and putting the power of education in the hands of the children themselves.

Several months after rolling out the PAGES program, our partner Save the Children collected the results from the Afaris on how they feel about the lamps, as well as what real impacts the lamps have made on their lives and livelihoods and we wanted to share this with you. (For the full impact report by Save the Children, click here.)

Hassna, for example, now wants to grow up to educate other Afari girls just like her:

“I like going to school every day and I want to go further with my education. For future, I want to become a great teacher. I want to help children particularly girls in Afar who do not have access to education.” – Hassna, aged 13.

Here’s Hassna’s story:

Hassna Smiles with Little Sun from Little Sun on Vimeo.

Afar is a very special place. Situated in the “Horn of Africa“, it is historically and culturally significant for all of us on earth as it is the site of one of the earliest homonoid remains (Australopithecus, “Lucy“), meaning that it is one of the most ancient regions of human inhabitation. The Afaris themselves are thought to be one of the oldest tribes on earth. It is the birthplace of many ancient, as well as modern, cultural achievements in almost every field of human endeavour including agriculture (the first use of grass for example), architecture, art, cuisine (the development of coffee), education, literature and music, to name a few.

It is a volcanic region that lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats. It is also one of the most geographically remote and politically and economically marginalised areas in Africa. A drought-prone region with a limited and unreliable period of rainfall each year, temperatures in Afar can average over 40 degrees C. Due to climate change, the region has also been made one of the most inhospitable in Africa, meaning Afaris are even more vulnerable to poverty.

Being so geographically isolated, Afaris also have little access to development schemes and government services. Society places a particular burden on women and girls, leaving them especially at risk. In some areas, women and girls spend several hours every day just collecting firewood to fuel their family’s needs.

Afaris live in small, basic huts – moving on when the water nearby runs dry. None of the Afari homes which Little Suns were delivered to were connected to electricity. The main source of light and fuel is firewood or “kuraz“ – wick-based kerosene lamps. Gathering firewood is an extremely time-consuming task and kerosene is very costly. Both forms of light and fuel are also dangerous and unhealthy. The smoke from both causes significant respiratory problems and eye diseases.

Afar has the lowest use of solar powered light and energy in Ethiopia but the highest need for it (Off Grid Market Study – Ethiopia Oct 2016, page 13). For school students alone, solar would enable them time to complete their homework and assignments after their nightly chores tending to goats and camels, and would also eliminate the need to waste precious time gathering firewood.

Save the Children, Ethiopia, saw a great need to bring solar to the Afaris. As part of their PAGES program, and our POWER TO READ program, Save the Children has distributed 498 solar lamps to Afar, benefiting a total of 498 school children out of which 250 are girls. The distribution covered all the eight intervention districts of the Afar Region.

“This year I stood first in my class… I will work hard by using my Little Sun and keep my rank forever!” – Mekdes, an Afari girl aged 10.

Reporting back after three months of receiving their Little Suns, all the students who received a lamp, still had their lamp and are using it. Almost half of all the households who received lamps had entirely eliminated their use of firewood to light their homes. 87% of students said that their primary light source had become their solar lamp. Every single student reported that they found the light easy to use and, wonderfully, every single student also said their Little Sun lamp had boosted their abilities as a student as they could now read after dark.

“There is a significant difference before the students got the Little Sun and now as there are improvements in their academic results,” said the School Principal from Gewane Woredae Medeleda School.

While we can’t make the harsh environment of Afar any more hospitable, we can bring the gift of better learning, safer nights and healthier homes with our Little Sun lamps. Save the Children Ethiopia also told us that the Little Sun lamps “made the hearts of students and parents happy” – so this makes us at Little Sun very happy too.  We are very grateful to the people of Afar for expressing such positivity about the impact of our little yellow lamps.

“For those people who supported us with the solar lamp, I want to say thank you on behalf of all the children in my community.” – Fatuma, aged 12.

If you are a humanitarian worker or working for an NGO and are interesting in furthering our programs, please be in touch with Eva, our Humanitarian Projects Manager:

For the full impact report from Save the Children, click here.



Baseline study Jan 2017, impact study March 2017

  • In the baseline study, 51% responded that their current light source was firewood, 32% torch, 10% hand battery, 4% solar, 1% kerosene.
  • The average expenditure for hand batteries is 12 ETB per week (23 ETB = 1USD), and 24 ETB per week for a litre of kerosene, 10 ETB to charge torches plus 30 ETB per week transportation cost to the nearest market.
  • 498 Little Suns were distributed in 16 schools in eight districts of Afar Region Ethiopia
  • 106 students (56 boys, 50 girls) and 92 parents (62 male, 36 female) were interviewed in Focus Group discussions
  • All students still had their lamps 3 months after the distribution
  • The solar lamp entirely replaced the use of firewood for 43.5% of the students
  • 87% of students responded that their current light source is now solar
  • 100% of students responded LSO was very easy and reliable to use (especially whilst looking after camels and goats at night)
  • 100% of students said the LSO boosted their abilities as they were reading more after dark
  • Save the Children concluded that the lamp “made the heart of students and parents happy.”