Last week, We Care Solar officially launched Light Every Birth in Zimbabwe. The festive occasion was officiated by the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, who serves as the country’s health ambassador. In addition to wonderful speeches by the First Lady, the Deputy Minister of Health, John Mangwiro, a Member of Parliament and the country rep of the World Health Organization, We Care Solar co-founder and Executive Director Laura Stachel presented an award to a very special attendee: Wadson Muchemwa. It is through his hard-work and determination that Solar Suitcases were brought to Zimbabwe.
Wadson Muchemwa was introduced to the Solar Suitcase in Berkeley, Calfornia, back in 2009. At that time the Solar Suitcase was being prototyped on the kitchen table of Hal Aronson and Laura Stachel. Wadson immediately recognized the potential of this technology to change health care in his own country. He spent the next few years demonstrating the Solar Suitcase to his colleagues, starting his own non-profit, ZimEnergy Eco-Foundation, and attempting to raise funds for a substantial program. In 2015, Wadson’s wish came true. We were able to send the first 15 Solar Suitcases to his ZimEnergy, with the support of the Montei Foundation. His program was so successful that the following years, we increased the number to 30, then 50, and then 100. To date, a total of 236 Solar Suitcases have been installed in health facilities across the country, most of them by Wadson himself. With the launch of Light Every Birth, and added commitments from The Meadow Fund, Wells Fargo Foundation, the Starr International Foundation, The Zayed Sustainability Prize, The Montei Foundation, The Segal Family Foundation, UNDESA, Music for Relief, The James and Sharon Maida Foundation, and individual donors, we aim to equip 1,000 health centers with this life-saving technology
After installing 200 Solar Suitcases in rural health centers throughout Zimbabwe, Wadson has become somewhat of an expert on Solar Suitcases for health care. He has witnessed the benefits of our bright lights, phone chargers and fetal Doppler. The program has particularly special meaning to him because of his own upbringing.
Wadson was born on a dirt floor in a round hut where the only source of light was firewood. He knows that babies in his country continue to be born in similarly darkened conditions. This fact propels him to do what he can to improve the situation for health workers and mothers. His biggest concern is reaching every clinic in time to save mothers and babies.
“My sadness is going to a clinic and being told, ‘Yesterday we lost a baby because we didn’t have a light. You should have come yesterday, we would not have lost a baby.’ My challenge is how can I speed up my installations? Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a problem. If there is a problem with a car on the road, I can fix that. When I go to the field, I know I will come back. When I install, I know the Solar Suitcase will work. I will not be called with anything wrong with the suitcase. But my challenge is that I want to get to the clinic earlier.”
Wadson has traveled across the country, traversing challenging roads, facing difficult weather, and overcoming fuel shortages in order to reach distant clinics. It isn’t uncommon for Wadson to continue his installations into the night after a long journey, sleeping in his truck or even in a clinic. He realizes that more hands are needed and has trained others at ZimEnergy to conduct installations, promoting women as installers whenever he can.
Thanks to his passion for illuminating clinics, Wadson has a very unique way to celebrate his birthday. “Rather than celebrating my birthday on my own, where it doesn’t mean a thing, I wanted to celebrate the day others are being born. I wanted to do an installation on my birthday. I thought I should be at a clinic installing the Solar Suitcase and seeing a baby under the newly installed lights. So I went to a shop and purchased clothes for a new baby. I didn’t know if I would see a boy or a girl so I got clothes for each. I was so happy when I arrived at the clinic and found a mother with newborn twins – a boy and a girl! I was able to give her and her husband all the clothes, and it was a great way to celebrate a birthday. I want to do this every year.”
Though Wadson’s own wife is a nurse, he has learned the most about maternal health care from speaking with dozens of midwives about the impact of the Solar Suitcase. He acknowledges that throughout Zimbabwe, mothers are asked to bring candles to the labor room. The Solar Suitcase has been transformative – allowing health workers to work effectively throughout the night.
“They are saying the light is so bright, they can even pick up a needle.” He has learned of the importance of Solar Suitcases for health workers treating HIV patients, where blood spillages are risky for mothers and health workers alike. He knows that the rechargeable headlamps enable midwives to suture lacerations promptly; they no longer need to delay care until the morning. And he sees how grateful health workers are to have power for the fetal Doppler, providing an accurate way to listen for the fetal heartbeat, and for charging their phones. “We no longer have a challenge calling for an ambulance,” they tell me.
We were thrilled to present Wadson with our first Light Every Birth “Certificate of Distinction” on February 13th at the national launch. The First Lady embraced Wadson and commended his efforts to bring clean energy to maternal health facilities. Through Wadson’s commitment to reaching the most remote health facilities in Zimbabwe, Wadson is truly a national hero, ensuring that every health worker has “the power to save lives.”
Watch this video to learn more about Wadson and his extraordinary work to Light Every Birth in Zimbabwe.