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Mwanapili Iddi Makame, a widow and mother of 6 children, lives in a small village of Kandwi in Northern Unguja on the Island of Zanzibar. She took care of her children alone and had a small rice cake business. ‘It was difficult time,” she says. “My rice bread was often smelling of kerosene, and few would buy them. This was a problem for many of us in food selling business. Those days I was struggling to get together enough money to sustain my family.”

Chosen as a Solar Mama

In 2011 when Barefoot started the solar power project in her village, she was chosen to be the Solar Mama. She, with four other trainees from Zanzibar, spent six months learning solar engineering at Barefoot College, in Tilonia, India. For the first time in her life she was visiting another country, but she was also learning to be a Solar Engineer – something that in Zanzibar’s paternalistic society is considered men’s work.

Mwanapili and the other Solar Mamas installed solar panels (sponsored by the Indian government) in 2011. The residents now pay a monthly fee, smaller than the average monthly cost of kerosene. Mwanapili helped install solar panels in 98 households in Kandwe, including her own household.

“We are saving a lot in energy costs. I used to pay 15,000 tsh weekly for the kerosene. Now I pay 6000 tsh monthly, the fee for solar power.”

How Life has Changed

Five years later her life has changed a lot. Mwanapili continues working as a solar Mama, making repairs and doing maintenance for the households with solar systems. She also has more customers for her bread – it does not smell like kerosene anymore. She has joined a savings group, where she is saving 2500 tsh weekly (appr. 1 $), income from the bread business. She has a 3-year-plan to construct a house, so the saved money will mainly be used for cement and bricks. She has managed to school three of her children, quite an achievement for a single mother on Zanzibar.  

Last year Mwanapili got married again, her husband supports her as a professional and shares responsibility of loooking after the children while she is visiting or repairing solar systems in other households.

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