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.
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…
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.
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.