An impossible dream of enabling five illiterate grandmothers to bring electricity to a handful of DR Congo's poorest villages has moved one step closer to being realised with the arrival into Goma of $100,000 worth of solar power equipment.
Back in November 2010, the Gorilla Organization helped send the 'Solar Sisters' to the Barefoot College in India, where they were trained in making and maintaining solar power technology, skills they have been itching to put into use in their home villages.
Now the equipment they will install in their communities - all of which are at the edge of the Virunga National Park, home to more than half of the world's last-remaining mountain gorillas - has finally arrived in Goma, where it is being sorted by the Gorilla Organization's African field staff.
Now, the equipment, which has been donated by th Government of India, will be installed in the villages of Burusi, Nzulo, Pinga and Rusayo, meaning around 500 families will benefit from the initiative. Additionally, hundreds more will also benefit through the creation of a 'Rural Electricity Workshop' in each village. Here, the Solar Sisters will pass their skills on to others, ensuring that sustainable electricity is brought to many more of the communities situated alongside the gorilla habitat.
Welcoming the arrival of the equipment into DR Congo, the Gorilla Organization's executive director Jillian Miller paid tribute to the hard work the team at the Goma Resource Centre have put in over the past 12 months.
"Rural poverty is one of the greatest threats to the gorilla habitat in DR Congo, where illegal charcoal production for domestic fuel use is the cause of massive deforestation," she said. "Our field workers see it every day. By providing a sustaiable source of renewable energy, the Solar Sisters project will help reduce at least some of the enormous pressure on the gorilla habitat, while also contributing to poverty alleviation in the long term."
The Gorilla Organization is now recruiting two new groups of Solar Sisters - one from Rwanda, one from Uganda - to go to India for training this year, while UNESCO's Man and Biosphere directorate has also expressed an interest in supporting the initiative, having seen the difference community solar power projects are making in sensitive conservation areas across Africa.