E-Luma Music Festival – Coming Soon!

22 Mar


Interested in the line-up, and who/when/where, find our Facebook Event at: http://www.facebook.com/ProjectYele

Come out and Dance!

The President’s Visit!

12 Mar

The President of The Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma visited the Gbonkolenken Chiefdom on March 9th 2012. During his tour, at the request of President Koroma, a visit was scheduled to e-Luma and the Lion Heart Foundation.

President Koroma was welcomed to Gbonkolenken by the Paramount Chief of the Gbonkolenken Chiefdom, Bai Santuba Osara III along with the Country Director of the Lion Heart Foundation, Mr. Donald Keus and the Director of e-Luma, Laila Velji. His Excellency visited the NedOil Mill, followed by a tour of the by-product of the palm oil production at the Soap Factory.

Laila shares our vision for e-Luma with His Excellency, the President of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma

The tour also included the Lion Heart Medical Center, the newly refurbished water treatment facility, and the hydro power plant. In addition, President Koroma graciously allowed for a private meeting to discuss the future plans for extension of energy services to a larger part of the region, a plan in which e-Luma will play an important role. Later in the afternoon, President Koroma visited the e-Luma site where Laila shared the development plans for the upcoming development center and discussed the impact of such a development in the community.

At the end of the trip, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma addressed the community of Yele. In his address the President expressed his pleasure in being in Yele and witnessing the progress and efforts of the LionHeart Foundation, PowerNed and e-Luma along with the entire team and expressed his deepest gratitude, several times to the team in attendance.

‘…….They provide energy for the community and on top of that they bring clean water get them to the homes of people. I believe this is an integrated approach to development of the community…these sort of projects, under normal circumstances are supposed to be carried out by the government. We, as a government, are glad with what we see and we believe that we will do what you need to make these programs succeed. When it succeeds we will take it from Chiefdom to Chiefdom. We now know this is a new concept of integrated development and we hope to take it across the country. To crown it all, they are modernizing the market systems for us though the e-Luma. We commend you for your efforts and we will use this pilot in Yele and see how we will learn from the Yele, Gbonkolenken example for the development in the country.’

Extract transcribed from the Speech of His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to the community in Yele, Sierra Leone on March 9th 2012.


“I de get you”

28 Jan

Our latest entry comes directly from Emily’s blog for MIT’s Public Service Center, enjoy her perspective!

Sheika and Desmond look at my updated drawings of the roof and make comments on how to improve it.

A typical meeting in Yele often combines drinks and business, although sometimes business just has to take place where the business is – in our case, out on the construction site. Anna and I have been working most closely with Sheika and Desmond who are owner and architect (respectively) of the local construction business, KadShek Enterprise. Just about every single day, we touch base with them to see the work that is going on so far and to plan for the coming days. Since they have both been working in Yele for a few years now and are native Sierra Leoneans, they have been critical for the design process and in mobilizing people to get things done.

We came in with some design ideas in mind, but in every step of the way – from the foundation to the roof and now talking about the doors and windows for the containers – there has been quite a lot of back and forth to refine and transform what we thought would work into what they believe would also be attractive yet suitable for building in Yele. For instance, I knew about the rainy season in Sierra Leone and so Zahraa (the other e-Luma architect, staying State-side) had tried to take into account roof overhangs, assuming that the rain would come in the same direction as the typical northeastern winds. We were hoping that the roof would become the main design element with the most inventiveness to transform architecture in Yele. But of course, the weather doesn’t always cooperate according to meterological models, and what we dreamed up in Boston might not work when made a physical reality in Sierra Leone. Desmond pointed out that once the rain comes in June and July, it can fall from every direction and every angle.

Making notes about the first round of mock-up trusses – the first round of 2 or 3 more to come.

Together we made some full-scale mock ups of the roof truss to see, in real life, what it would look like on the containers. The concept of making iterations or repeated design modifications isn’t part of the traditional construction process, so it was interesting to try and convey the idea that it takes a few tries and prototypes to get it right.

It has also been cool to involve more people in the design process and feel like everyone’s input is important. One day last week, Anna and I were back at the LHF compound for lunch, and Sheika just rushed in unannounced saying, “I have an idea about the roof! Where is a pen?” He quickly grabbed my notebook and started sketching, and promptly said, “Ok now here, you draw it good.” I redrew his sketch to get the proportions right and to understand his idea, and we agreed that this was a good direction. Remembering this makes me laugh because it was the first time I realized that this process wasn’t only fun for us, but that this was also an opportunity for him and the others to be creative. Eventually we came up with a final design that would work with the local climate and local skills, but that also was different enough to maybe inspire some new design thinking.

That’s why the phrase “I de get you” comes to mind. It is Krio – a more general local language, often called broken English – for “I get you” or “I understand you.” Little by little – small small – we’re starting to understand each other and move on the same page.

The e-Luma is taking shape

24 Jan


Foundation is ready

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.

Containers arrive

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…

First two 40-foot containers in place!

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.

Moving Quickly

15 Jan

Anna and Emily at the construction site

The team starts their first Sunday in Yele with a pancake brunch before heading to the construction site and checking on the foundations. They met Shaka, manager of the construction company, who promised they will be ready before the containers arrive. Emily and Anna start getting familiar with LHF’s work in Yele as the team tours the power plant, the expanding medical center, and the palm oil mill. They dropped by junction, Yele’s commercial hub, where they met and chatted with local entrepreneurs about the eLuma Development Center. In the afternoon, they had a formal meeting with Shaka and his main architect Desmond to discuss options for the Center’s roof.  Both of them got very excited about the prospects of designing a creative and innovative roof, something not seen in Yele before. After a productive day, the team headed back to junction to watch the Barcelona vs Espanyol game. Football is no small matter in Sierra Leone.

The Barefoot Firefly in action

Its Emily’s birthday on Monday! The team starts the day by charging the solar lights they brought from Freetown; hopes are high for this new Barefoot set. Anna takes a stab at driving the manual transmission 4×4 Toyota that the team uses to move around. It’s so much fun to drive on the bumpy roads (not so much for the passengers!). Emily hasn’t driven stick cars before, so Anna has to get used to drive around before Paul’s upcoming departure. Work on the foundation is progressing fast and the team has a chance to check the 4 containers that will constitute the Center’s first phase. Other than a colony of spiders that has made one of them their home, they seem adequate. For lunch, Maria improvised a surprise birthday cake for Emily – the team couldn’t hope for better hosts! After the celebrations, they give some quick lessons to Power Ned employees on GPS tools to locate houses that have signed up for electricity. The near-term goal is to identify which houses don’t have a pole nearby and plan on the best way to expand. Before sunset they check the rusty old hydro turbine that almost became functional in Yele before civil war broke out in Sierra Leone over a decade ago. The team brainstorms on possible ways to use this material in the eLuma Development Center, recycling is power! Back at the LHF compound, the team spends some bonding time with Emanuel’s amazing kids. Emanuel makes sure that the compound runs smoothly; without his hard work the place would fall apart. Anna has her hair braided by Isha, the older sister, while Idi shows off his dancing skills. K’naan‘s Waving Flag is his favorite. When its dark enough, the team tries out the lights. The firefly is very powerful but starts loosing power after 3-4 hours, while the Powapack’s bigger battery allows it to last much longer…

eLuma's good friend, the Paramount Chief

When the team wakes up the next day, the Powapack lights are still on. Impressive! The team then heads down to the mill and decides on a roof: sloped upwards to improve shop visibility. They then head out to talk to Musa, a local entrepreneur, and give him one of the Firefly lights to try out. Checking the panels we brought last summer reveals a layer of dust that is likely affecting their performance. Anna and Emily get a chance to finally meet the Paramount Chief, and the whole team has dinner with him later that day. He talks about his dreams and plans for Yele’s future, but warns that they can only be achieved with proper education. In his opinion, the lack of good education is the main issue in Yele. They also discuss financial literacy, entrepreneurship in Yele, the inadequacy of current informal banking options, and potential businesses. Overall it was an extremely enlightening conversation, the team is lucky to enjoy the Chief’s friendship.

Phase 1 progress

On Wednesday the team heads out to explore Makeni and carry out a series of well defined tasks. Makeni is the closest city to Yele, a couple of hours away mostly by dirt road. They purchase construction material and groceries before going to Makeni University to check the Fatima container restaurant. There is also a container market next door, and the team meets the person in charge of building both. Shop-owners pay 1,500,000 Leones per year for renting a shop, approximately $340. This gives us an idea of how much we can charge at the future eLuma Development Center in Yele. The team then does some market research on lighting products. There are many low-quality Chinese LED lights priced at around $8 that need their batteries replaced every week at a cost of approximately $1. The team also finds out that kerosene is starting to be prohibited at other big cities due to the number of fires is causes. This information will help us refine our idea for solar-based lighting businesses.

The 2012 Expedition Begins!

10 Jan

The eLuma team is back in Sierra Leone …

Dinner at the beach in Freetown

After a long trip through Casablanca and Monrovia, Paul and Anna landed at Lungi airport shortly before sunrise on January 5th. They had to wait several hours until the day’s first ferry took them to Freetown, where they exchanged a few hundred dollars for a couple million Leones and started work right away. Edward met them at the LHF office and joined them to do some preliminary research on materials for the eLuma Development Center. After a great Lebanese lunch, they headed to the Ministry of Finance in order to get clearance for the containers that will serve as the Center’s main structure. Unfortunately this wasn’t successful and  the team finally headed to the beach for a well deserved dinner and rest.

Meeting Abu from Emanem Investment

The next day the team headed out to Ecobank in order to discuss plans for their future branch at the eLuma Development Center. The bank’s officials were hesitant to fully commit to opening a branch given that there might not be a large enough market. Its now up to our team to research further and build a solid case to present to them. The next meeting went much better. This one was with Abu Multi-Kamara, the founder of Emanem Investment. Abu will supply us with reliable lights that will help us expand the rental light business model that we piloted last summer. Anna and Paul then went to greet Emily at the airport, who landed after a long delay at 3 am.

We got the lights!

On Saturday, the team went to pick up the lights from Abu after breakfast with Greta, from the LHF. It was slightly more complicated than expected given some confusion with additional taxes, but concluded successfully after a long negotiation. With Emily on board, the team was ready to head to Yele. They stopped at Makeni, to check out a market where containers are being used as shops. The team learned a lot from this market, built by the Christian mission, and continued their way to Yele. After dinner and a long day, the lights went off and the team finally got some sleep.

Back home from Sierra Leone, safe and sound

14 Aug

Journal #8

The whole team is now back in their respective homes, resting for a few days before starting again with their studies and jobs. The 2011 expedition to Yele has been a great success, and many of the objectives have been reached.

Enjoying the last days in Sierra Leone

The team’s last days were spent in Freetown, finishing up the last details.The trip from Yele to the capital was long and rainy, and the roads that seemed so much improved a month earlier, now seemed deteriorated by the strong rains. This, however, did not stop the team from having dinner on the beach, enjoying exotic plates such as grilled barracuda with coconut sauce!

Antal and Tori playing with children in Yele

Beach in Freetown

Meeting with Ecboank

Last Monday and Tuesday, Tori and Antal left Africa to head back to the US and Holland, respectively. The rest stayed another 2 days in Freetown, where they had a final meeting with representatives of Ecobank. To get there, they had asked a person on the street for directions, who pointed to a soldier who signaled them to follow him. He took them to the Ecobank building, which was shut down due to a fire alarm. However, he told them to follow him inside, oblivious to the smell of smoke and charred walls. “No problem, sir”. In spite of the peculiar situation, the team members followed him up to the person they were going to meet. The encounter with Ecobank was efficient, as they confirmed they wanted to set up a branch in the eLuma.

Streets of Freetown

Finally, on Wednesday, Paul and Mauricio finished up the last tasks, and enjoyed the beach after a hard day’s work. In their last evening, they ventured into the city to discover it’s nightlife…


eLuma bottle openers to support Project Yele

The team has acquired 50 traditional bottle openers to sell to Project Yele’s friends and supporters. The openers cost 3$, and all the money goes straight to funding for this project. Plus, they are a perfect and original gift! If you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact us at info@yele.nl

If you wish to know more about Project Yele or to contact the team, please visit the website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Also have a look at our Photo Gallery!

Last days in Yele

9 Aug

Journal #7

The one-month expedition is coming to an end. The team has been finishing up the final projects, successfully concluding this year’s visit to Yele. Continue reading

Support Project Yele: have a beer!

6 Aug

Would you like to support Project Yele? Do you need a simple and original gift for your friends and family?
The Project Yele team will be bringing 50 traditional bottle openers from Sierra Leone to sell to our supporters. The openers cost 3$, and all the money goes straight to funding for this project. Plus, they are a perfect and original gift! Continue reading

Introducing… eLuma!

5 Aug

Journal #6

Project Yele’s expedition to Yele is reaching its last week, and so much has already been done.

By popular demand amongst locals, the community bazaar has been baptized eLuma (e = electricity and Luma = market in Krio). Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: