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A very excited Isha Daramy-Kabia called me from Sierra Leone today. Isha is a midwife I met in December through the Global Women’s Leadership Network and the driving force behind our recent excursion to Sierra Leone.
If you ever meet Isha, you’ll learn that it’s just about impossible to turn her down. Isha has impeccable clinical skills, years of experience in mobilizing communities to improve maternal and child health, a regal demeanor, and an unwavering passion for reducing maternal mortality. Within days of meeting her, she had contacted the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and UNFPA to arrange for my visit. And sure enough, in late January, within weeks of our first encounter, I was boarding a plane, headed to Sierra Leone to pilot a Solar Suitcase program.
Accompanying me on this trip was an experienced photovoltaic instructor from Solar Energy International, Carol Weis, and a talented documentary filmmaker, Lisa Russell.
The health officials with whom we met grasped the significance of our easy-to-use solar power systems. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world. Most of Sierra Leone’s 1,120 rural health centers have NO electricity whatsoever, making it difficult to deliver critical services, particularly at night The country has uneven terrain, and rural health centers are often hard to reach. Bringing electricity to remote sites is not without its challenges.
In a four-wheel drive, we crisscrossed the beautiful countryside, past lush fields, mountainous backdrops, and tropical trees, When we arrived at villages, the local women hugged us and beamed with delight – our Solar Suitcases were often the FIRST electricity for the entire village! On several occasions were were greeted by communities who showed their excitement about the Solar Suitcase by singing and dancing, inventing lyrics about our mission. “Welcome!” they chanted in Krio. “You have brought light. Now we can get treatment.”
Carol Weis led the solar installations, engaging dozens of villagers in the rooftop installations, wiring, and equipment mounting. Sometimes communities would craft a ladder especially for our project and we sensed the joy and pride that came from their involvement. Isha and I taught classes to health workers, covering Solar Suitcase operation and maintenance, basic obstetric skills, and use of the fetal dopplers we provided. Often our classes gained an added audience of children and elders, equally eager to learn about our solar powered devices. The highlight of our trip was when the Minister of Health and Sanitation herself – the honorable Minister Zainab Bangura – joined us for a twilight Solar Suitcase class at one remote health facility.
This week, Isha returned to the clinics to follow up on our installations. “It’s fantastic!” she bubbled. “Everything is working so well…Pregnant women are arriving earlier in labor, giving the health providers more opportunity to provide labor care. More women are coming for skilled deliveries. Even the TBAs (traditional birth attendants) are coming. The light is so bright, it gives a transformation of the village.”
On this trip, we demonstrated that rural health workers can quickly learn basic solar electricity, that a rugged entry-level solar electric system can be easily installed in remote health centers, and that communities can become instant partners in our efforts to reduce energy poverty and promote safe motherhood. But this is just the beginning…and we hope that one day we will fulfill Isha’s dream to ensure that all the labor rooms in Sierra Leone have reliable lighting.
- When Light Means Life…An interview with Dr. Bwire Chirangi
- When Solar Light Saves Lives by Robin Lim, CPM
- How a yellow suitcase saves mothers and babies
- We Share Solar Winter Training preps youth for Solar Suitcase installs in Warmer Climates
- A day in the life of a Solar Ambassador…. by Merritt Eby Gates
- “Philippine Heroes of the Night” by Robin Lim and Laura Stachel
- Shining a Light on Healthcare Heroes
- Pedagogy of the Empowered – Notes from Solar Ambassador Merritt Eby Gates
- Princeton Day School Students Empower Distant Classrooms
- A New Light Shines on a Ugandan Maternal Health Center
- Shining a light on a Ugandan maternity center
- WHO Director-General lauds Solar Suitcase as “sunshine saving lives.”
- Notes from a Solar Ambassador – Merritt Gates
- Between Life and Death
- We Share Solar Launches at the Tech!
- We Share Solar at the Tech Museum of Innovation
- We Care Solar launches Successful Ambassador Program
- Integrated Solar Suitcase Wins the Gates/USAID ‘Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge’ Award
- UN Secretary-General: Solar Suitcase ‘Valuable’
- Malawi: Moving from Candlelight to Electricity
- The Golden Thread
- Powering Healthcare
- Hope in Afghanistan
- Solar Energy International and WE CARE Solar Seek Solar Suitcase Ambassadors
- Isha’s Dream – Lighting up lives in Sierra Leone
- Birthday Reflections
- SAFE in Uganda with the Solar Suitcase
- Power to Save Lives
- A Bright Light in Sierra Leone
- A World of Thanks
- The Color of Life
- Changing Lives….One Suitcase at a Time
- Passing the Baton
- Special Deliveries
- ABC News: Let There Be Light – World News’ Person of the Week
- ABC News Million Moms Challenge – Opinion: Let there be light
- ABC News Million Moms Challenge – Reporter’s Notebook: Light in Liberia
- WE CARE Solar wins the 2011 Tech Awards!
- Bringing Light and Improved Care to Somalia
- WE CARE Solar honored as 2011 Tech Award Laureate
- WE CARE Solar Suitcase headed to Somalia, Sudan, and India
- Collaborating “Outside of the Box”
- Stories from the Night
- Safe Deliveries – New Research Project in Nigeria
- Liberia – the power of light
- Father’s Day, WE CARE Solar Style
- What a difference a light makes…
- Mother’s Day Memorial – Evelyn’s Light
- Liberia “Light Up A Life” Project
- Coming Together