An organization run by women in Senegal, ElleSolaire, was supplying solar panels to light up country homes that are off the power grid. But with the outbreak of the coronavirus, and health care stretched, ElleSolaire has switched to providing the panels to underequipped, remote health clinics, where women are often forced to give birth in the dark.
Senegalese women adorned in colorful wax fabric clothes laugh and dance around in the village of Tiamene Diogo. They are celebrating because the local clinic that provides prenatal care will soon have electric lights and fans.
Head nurse Issaka Dia says with more than 2,500 people from six villages, there are about eight births each month, many of which he attends to at night using only the light from his mobile phone.
He says he’s so happy. He feels like they can now work day and night, even in the heat.
The remote region in western Senegal is off the electric grid, so the clinic will be powered by the sun.
Since 2018, the woman-run ElleSolaire has been installing solar power in rural households.
With the coronavirus pandemic stretching health care, the company began equipping remote clinics.
Kelly Lavelle is the founder and executive director.
“We’ve been just amazed at the reception," said Lavelle. "The reception we’ve seen today is a point in case. It’s sad in a way that we’ve had to wait for COVID to hit for us to stop and think about the health clinics. But I’m really pleased that we’ve managed to pivot this into an opportunity.”
The organization also provides new skills for women like Jeanne Thiaw, ElleSolaire’s women’s coordinator. She used to scrape by with child care and cleaning jobs.
She says that although she could pay the rent before, she could not feed her family because she didn’t have the means.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Thiaw and her co-workers have installed solar-powered lights, fans, and mobile phone chargers at 23 remote clinics.
More than one million Senegalese lack access to power, according to USAID, and the World Health Organization says rates of maternal mortality are high.
Oumar Samb is a project evaluator with Senegal’s Ministry of Women, Family and Child Protection.
He says when women arrive to give birth in the night or in the day and all the machines are down, it’s obviously a danger for the woman in labor and for the newborn. Access to solar energy for these rural women can be lifesaving, he says.
And that, say the women, is progress worth celebrating.