Much has happened since the last post! After the team’s visit to Makeni to shop for materials, they quickly got to work preparing the containers forpositioning on site. Because the e-Luma Development Center will be built using recycled materials, the shipping containers have an average life of 10 years and showed signs of aging. This has unavoidably resulted in dents and scratches on the container walls, and in some cases even holes. Together with Sheika, who’s leading the construction team, we assigned four people to start cleaning, removing rust with steel brushes, smoothing the surface, and painting the containers with anti-rust paint.
While the containers were being repaired, the team started planning their internal layout. Where would the windows go? How wide should the doors be? What is the ideal shop size? Not only did they have to consider what the shop owners preferred in terms of layout, they also had to bear in mind that the container walls serve as the structure holding it together, and too many modifications may risk their integrity. Emily’s talent with computer-aided design helped in visualizing different ideas and they soon had some interesting suggestions. At the same time, Paul and Anna began drafting the application forms – they would distribute these so that business owners in Yele could apply for shop space in the EDC.
That afternoon Anna visited Cecilia, our first LumaLight entrepreneur, who is already renting the barefoot lights the team wanted to test. She even sold 2 Firefly lights, earning a profit of 40.000Le ($10). The remaining lights have been rented out every night since they arrived in Yele. It will take some time for the business to grow, given that the rental model is new both for customers and entrepreneurs, but the initial signs are promising. Several customers have already reserved and paid for renting lights up to 10 nights in advance! LumaLight is beginning to take shape, and more importantly, to make profit!
In the evening the team was invited to Yele’s radio station to talk about the e-Luma and answer questions about it:
When will it open? We’re hoping that phase 1 will open by the end of February.
What will be the fee for renting a shop in the e-Luma? Initially about $5 / month.
What does e-Luma stand for? ‘e’ for electricity, entrepreneurship, education and luma is Temne for ‘market’.
And many more…
The team was assisted by Sahr, a Sierra Leonean who could translate when needed. Florence, the radio DJ, told them that at least 90 percent of Yele’s population listen to the radio, especially in the evenings. There is no light, there is no television, but people have battery-operated radios. That is their main channel of communication and entertainment. Florence told the team that the next day they’d be famous in Yele. Sure enough, the following morning people would shout as the team drove through town: “E-luma! We heard you on the radio!”
That day Paul headed out to the Secondary School to teach a class. Erica, the local Peace Corps Volunteer and science teacher, asked the team to give a class about how the hydroelectric power plant works. Paul taught the first class, and shared the basics of energy, electricity, and what those new power lines in Yele would mean to the lives of the children. At the end of the class the children joined the other 350 students at the end-of-day assembly in the courtyard. The children in the Secondary School are mainly boys; girls often drop out due to responsibilities and chores required at home. When Anna and Emily arrived and told the headmaster that they too were engineers, he held them by their wrists and said “Come! – let me introduce you to the girls!”. He lifted up their hands in front of the student body and said “Girls, please meet Anna and Emily. I want you to see what you can achieve if you stay in school!” And with that said, he led the school, as is customary, to sing Sierra Leone’s National Anthem.
High we exalt thee, realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
We raise up our hearts and our voices on high,
The hills and the valleys re-echo our cry;
Blessing and peace be ever thine own,
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.