Solar lamps help Kenyan villagers become nocturnal to escape heat

Sci & Tech
By Reuters | Oct 31, 2014

As the sun sets in Atheley, bringing a cool breeze, this drought-stricken village in northern Kenya breaks out in a flurry of activity.

People gather outside and school children emerge to play as nightfall allows them to leave the shelters that shield them from the extreme heat of the day and get on with their lives.

Over the past decade, Atheley and nearby villages have suffered a series of ever worsening droughts.

But this year, for the first time, daily temperatures have soared over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), making farming, schooling, healthcare and other activities a struggle.

The heat has forced people and livestock to retreat by day to shelters - circular huts made of dried sticks and grass - but the donation of solar lamps has given the village the chance to move day to night, shifting many activities to after nightfall.

"The 'day' has started and people are out of their hideouts ready to attend to their daily chores," says community elder Abdi Abey as the village comes to life once the sun sets.

With the heat making it hard for children to walk to school and to focus once there, the local authorities of Atheley and the neighbouring village of Shimbirey have come up with an innovative approach to education - night school.

Normally, Kenyan schools begin around 8 am and end at 4 pm but now the schools - two in each village - run from 6 pm to 9 pm, with children learning eight subjects in 30 minute lessons.

The children then return home to eat, sleep, and do their homework before returning at dawn for another two hour session.

Schools break up before the heat gets unbearable and teachers take to the shelters that can house up to 15 people to mark homework and prepare for lessons again in the evening.


This new routine to avoid the sun is only possible by harnessing its power. Solar lamps, charged during the day, provide lighting for schools for up to six hours at a time.

Donated to the schools by Dublin-based non-governmental organisation Afri, one lamp is strong enough to light a room that houses over 50 students and includes a cable for charging the teachers' mobile phones.

"The extreme and unbearable harsh temperature has forced us to come up with new ways of offering education at night, when the weather is friendlier and students can attend classes and concentrate," said Abdi Ahmed, a teacher at Shimbirey primary school.

There are even teachable moments to be found in the struggle to keep schools open.

"Students are also taught how to charge and use the solar lamps and learn the importance of tapping renewable energy," Ahmed said.

As students hunch over their books at night, groups of women gather in the village to milk cows and goats with the help of more solar-powered lamps. Other villagers wait at their homes for the local nurse to attend to sick family members.

The local dispensary has had to close during the day due to the soaring temperatures, so health care happens door-to-door after sunset.

"Nurses only operate at night, moving from one homestead to another," said nurse Abdullahi Olat. "It's not an easy task."

The villagers have also had to devise a strict water-rationing plan to protect their scarce supplies from the scorching heat. Atheley's three water points have dried up, so every day a group of women and young men trek to a water source 50 kms (31 miles) from the village and carry back more.

For the people of Atheley, delaying daily activities until after sundown is a temporary solution to escape the worsening heat. But if Kenya's extreme heat continues, villagers may have to get used to the nightlife.

"I have lived in Atheley for 50 years and I have never witnessed such weather conditions, which have turned us into prisoners, forcing us to work at night when we are supposed to rest before another gruelling day of trekking for water and herding livestock," said village elder Abey.

"The heat has turned us into nocturnal creatures and we have no alternative but to adapt."

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