Today was magical. Our team left the city of Kano to reach Minjibir General Hospital, where we were scheduled to bring light and power to the Operating Theatre, Maternity Ward, and Labor Room. The staff was excited about our Solar Suitcase training, and quickly assembled a group of midwives, doctors, and hospital administrative staff, including the hospital accountant. Labor and delivery was busy, and if we were going to include the midwives in our program, we had to do the training in the maternity ward. As I started to teach about solar, the head of the hospital asked me why an American obstetrician had helped to create a Solar Suitcase. “Don’t you have light and power in America?” he asked. As I described my 2008 research in northern Nigeria, where I repeatedly witnessed how women failed to get prompt emergency obstetric care when electricity wasn’t assured, all heads in the room nodded. The staff members were all too familiar with epilectic power supplies. They, too, had turned away patients needing surgery when the generator was without fuel, had delivered babies into the dark of night, and had strained to conduct procedures by cell phone lights. My audience was captive.
I made the training as interactive as I could. After providing an overview of solar electricity and describing the function of solar panels, charge controllers, and batteries, I had the class turning on power switches, plugging in LED lights, cell phones, and batteries, and marveling over the fact that the brightest light they had ever seen was only 4 watts!
Over the next few hours, as we completed three installations, a total of four mothers delivered! In between mounting solar panels and suitcases, teaching about energy budgets and securing lights to the ceiling, we’d hear a groan from the next room, and a midwife would run over to attend to a young mom in labor. The day was filled with cries of joy. We’d hear a newborn’s lusty cry as it took it’s first breath, a mother’s squeal of relief as she learned that her baby had survived. And then, another cry of delight, as the head midwife reacted to her new solar gift. This woman was so happy to finally have light in her maternity ward that she literally sang and danced in front of the Solar Suitcase…and we shared her joy.