2023 Impact Report
Thanks to you, We Care Solar has had a tremendous year of providing life-saving energy to maternal clinics in energy-poor countries and training women to be leaders in solar installation and maintenance. Our We Share Solar STEM education program is inspiring students to light schools in remote regions through our Solar Suitcase build programs. To date, we have expanded our Light Every Birth Initiative to 8,400 health facilities in 20 countries and equipped over 60,000 students across more than 20 U.S. school districts, Kenya and Uganda to build and share Solar Suitcases with schools in energy-scarce regions. We see the impact you have on our work every day.
Here are a few 2023 highlights:
We Care Solar’s Light Every Birth initiative
We Care Solar’s Light Every Birth initiative provides remote health clinics with life-saving solar power to ensure that every woman has access to a well-lit health facility for safe childbirth. Additionally, we build capacity in solar installation, operation, maintenance, and sustainability through our Women’s Empowerment Program. This gender-inclusive training program promotes women as installers and technicians in emerging solar fields. Our Light Every Birth programs also focus on environmental sustainability, the reduction of black carbon, and the elimination of fossil fuel sources of light and power in health facilities.
Since launching our Light Every Birth initiative in 2017, We Care Solar has conducted national programs in Africa, successfully reaching every qualifying public health facility in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We continue to work with these countries to ensure program sustainability. Building upon our current success, We Care Solar is expanding our Light Every Birth programming in new geographies—Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique.
We made the following progress toward our Light Every Birth goals in 2023:
- Uganda: To date, we have completed 2,500 Solar Suitcase installations in facilities throughout the country. To ensure program sustainability, we established a Maintenance Center in Kampala and trained certified technicians to build capacity in advanced Solar Suitcase maintenance.
- Sierra Leone: Our team of women installers completed hundreds of Solar Suitcase installations this year. The government has identified 100 more health facilities in need of Solar Suitcases and we are fundraising to meet this need.
- Zimbabwe: With countrywide Solar Suitcase installations completed, we moved into the Sustainability Phase to ensure the longevity of our program.
- Liberia: We successfully completed the Solar Suitcase program handover with the government of Liberia. Over the next few years, we will work on a handover and sustainability plan with the governments of Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
- Nigeria: We are prioritizing states with the highest rates of maternal mortality. We will complete 282 Solar Suitcase installations in Kebbi State by the end of 2023. Our next priority state is Bauchi, where we will target approximately 410 public health centers.
- Malawi: Landscape research and partnership engagement meetings held in 2023 laid the groundwork for Light Every Birth in Malawi. We expect to equip up to 1,000 health facilities with Solar Suitcases in all 28 districts of Malawi, a country with persistent high rates of maternal mortality and energy access challenges.
- Mozambique: In prior years, we worked with the Canadian NGO Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) to equip 80 health facilities with solar light and power. Next, we will conduct a deeper landscape analysis and work alongside maternal health-focused organizations to implement a larger Solar Suitcase program in Mozambique.
- Tanzania: In August, We Care Solar traveled to Tanzania to meet with government officials who expressed enthusiasm and pledged support for bringing Light Every Birth to Tanzania. We are now working with our government partners to create a memorandum of understanding and begin health facility selection.
Over the next five years, we anticipate that we will reach at least 10,000 health facilities, improving health care for an estimated 24 million mothers and newborns and uplifting health services for catchment populations of 150 million. Thanks to you, every ten seconds a woman delivers in a health facility with a We Care Solar Suitcase.
Voices From the Field: “The clinic is an island of light in a sea of darkness.”
Our programs are more than just numbers. The people behind the numbers – mothers, infants, health workers and leaders, show the real impact of Light Every Birth in Africa and beyond. Health workers remind us of the importance of light and power for safe deliveries. Without reliable power, they struggle to use candles, kerosene lanterns, and cell phones to provide illumination. Working at night is difficult, stressful, and lowers health worker confidence.
Joe Mende, the Community Health Officer at Tungie CHC in Sierra Leone said the Solar Suitcase had made improvements in his community, including decreased hospital referrals, cost savings, and increased community use.
“We are in a remote community, 1-2 km from the hospital. The village has no electricity. We really suffered. We were straining for light. The facility is a Primary Health Care Unit. We do a range of activities: Under-five care including immunizations, adult consultations, minor injuries, and preventive care. For pregnant women, we do antenatal care, deliver them at the facility, and we keep them for postnatal care. For the ones that we miss, or who don’t come to the facility, we do outreach activities to the community. It was very strenuous doing deliveries when pregnant women came for deliveries when there was no light. We used rechargeable solar lights. The handheld lights were not bright enough for the quality of care.”
Joe also reported that health workers are no longer afraid to be in the health center at night and they congregate in the maternity ward. Community members also appreciate being in a facility that is well-lit at night. The health center is the only place in the village with reliable light at night. “The clinic is an island of light in a sea of darkness.”
In Nigeria, Midwife Hadiza Shehu was particularly excited to be conducting antenatal services at Hisrishi PHC using the Solar Suitcase. Before the installation of the Solar Suitcase, Hadiza had to open all the doors and windows to achieve adequate lighting in the exam room, making her clients uncomfortable as their privacy was compromised. Now she relies on solar lights and can provide privacy for women being examined.
During each antenatal visit, Hadiza used the fetal Doppler from the Solar Suitcase to confirm that the heartbeat of the fetus was fine. Her pregnant patients have been overjoyed to have this first opportunity to connect with their babies in utero as they listen to the fetal heartbeat. “The women in the community can now easily come for their antenatal checkups and deliver in a completely private manner with the help of the Solar Suitcase.”
Women’s Empowerment Program
In 2020, We Care Solar piloted the Women’s Empowerment Program in Sierra Leone to increase both the number and skill level of female solar technicians and provide access to STEM employment opportunities that would uplift women and their communities. Over the next five years, we will build on the success of this pilot and train female technicians in additional countries, beginning with Nigeria and Malawi in 2024. Our Women’s Empowerment Program increases women’s representation in STEM fields while assuring health clinics have long-term, sustainable access to clean energy. With thousands of Solar Suitcases installed globally and more installed every year, we recognize the immense impact our women trainees can make to ensure the lights stay on for years to come.
Improving Technology and Innovation
In addition to our Light Every Birth activities, we continue to pursue new applications and medical devices for the Solar Suitcase. We recently piloted a solar-powered vaccine refrigeration program in Ethiopia. We also hope to modify our Version 3.0 Solar Suitcase to meet the needs of humanitarian aid health workers. We are currently conducting user-centered research with several humanitarian aid organizations to inform the design of a rapid response Solar Suitcase prototype. We Care Solar team members brought an early prototype of our humanitarian Solar Suitcase to display in Geneva at the 2023 AidEx Expo, the world’s leading humanitarian aid and disaster relief event.
We Share Solar STEM Education
We Care Solar is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of global changemakers. Our We Share Solar program offers STEM-positive learning experiences that link practical solar power engineering with humanitarian and community service through the building and sharing of our 12-volt DC stand-alone solar system, the blue We Share Solar Suitcase.
Thanks to the commitment of supporters, We Share Solar has trained over 60,000 students through youth education programs since 2013, assembling 3,150 We Share Solar Suitcase systems, and supporting 1,123 international deployments to benefit over 500,000 youth recipients. In addition to their utility in energy-deficient schools in low-and middle-income countries, our blue suitcase technology has been used in the United States for homeless shelters, Native American community centers, and emergency preparedness.
This year, We Share Solar programs were implemented in California, North Carolina, Minnesota, Hawai’i and Florida school districts. More recently, we engaged teachers and students in East Africa, working with girls’ schools in Kenya and refugee settlements in Kenya and Uganda.
Here are some of We Share Solar’s 2023 highlights:
We Share Solar’s 10th Anniversary
We Share Solar celebrated its 10th anniversary of providing hands-on STEM education. We marked this achievement with events in Nairobi and Minneapolis. In May, we gathered with staff and 25 of our installation technicians and partners as part of a larger training workshop. In August, we gathered more than 90 teachers, students and supporters to celebrate the occasion at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis. We also trained a new cohort of teachers from 12 Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, making Minnesota our largest program state with 62 participating schools!
Partner Training and Solar Advocacy
In May, We Share Solar staff traveled to Kenya to host our first ever East Africa Regional Partner Training and see their work in the field. Our team of seven staff spent three days in a hands-on technical training and knowledge sharing workshop that culminated in a day of installing 4 Solar Suitcases at a children’s home and school near Nairobi. Twenty-two partners from Kenya and Uganda participated in this upskilling solar installation training and tested new curriculum that we are adapting for our partners to deliver in workshops with East African students.
This fall, We Share Solar’s Senior Program Manager for Education, Anna Gomberg, traversed the United States to present at science teacher conferences on both coasts. Anna presented her session, “Green Engineering Design: Stand Alone Solar Systems” to teachers at the New Jersey Science Convention and the California Association of Science Educators Conference. Attendees were especially interested in the hands-on Energy Management activity that illustrated how to use a Solar Suitcase in the event of an emergency at their schools.
New US Schools, New Installations
We Share Solar added new solar STEM programs with public school districts in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Montebello, Hayward, Oakland, and San Francisco. Students from 146 learning sites and schools across the United States, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Uganda, and Kenya used We Share Solar curriculum and hands-on lessons to deepen their understanding of solar as a solution to battle climate change and increase energy justice. Our independent Power2Share programs enabled schools, community groups, corporate team building, and even families to have a direct impact on the lives of students in East Africa by learning about energy access and building a Solar Suitcase for deployment to remote communities.
When schools lack adequate lighting, it means fewer hours for students to learn, less lesson preparation time for teachers, lower test scores, and denied potential. In May and June, the We Share Solar installation teams in Kenya installed 43 We Share Solar Suitcases in rural schools and children’s homes in Mumias, Nairobi and Meru. In October and November, our technician team from Kabale, Uganda worked alongside staff from Alight to install 46 Solar Suitcases in schools in the Bidi Bidi and Rwamwanja refugee settlements.
Over the next five years, we will bring the We Share Solar program to additional schools in the US and Africa. Leveraging the traction we have built in Kenya and Uganda, we will begin a youth solar STEM skills training and installation program in South Sudan in 2024. We Share Solar’s goal is to provide 1,000 Solar Suitcases to schools and community centers over the next three years. To meet this goal, we are exploring ways to leverage the work of the Light Every Birth program to countries, including Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Malawi.