Mayange had been yearning for this moment for a long time: finally, the community of this Rwanda Millennium Village has seen the light, in every sense of the word.
Janvier Nzanywayimana was one of the people who were living in the dark. Now connection to the electricity grid has allowed him to go to university. How? ‘I finished high school in 2007 but couldn’t afford to continue my education. Then the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) facilitated the connection of my house to the power grid. I took a loan, started an internet cafe and a photo lab, and made enough money to put me through university,’ explains the 26 year old Rwandan.
The lack of basic infrastructure and electricity is a recurring problem in poor, remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa. In its multi-sectoral approach, the MVP puts an emphasis on grid extension and road construction, two means to allow communities to step into the 21st century. In cooperation with governments, the project has been able to extend the grid to several Millennium Villages. In Mayange, the MVP has spent about $280,000 to connect 4 out of the 5 primary schools and the only secondary school, 2 trading centers, 2 government offices and over 618 households between 2009 and 2010. But the real push came in late 2010, when in just 2 months more than 230 households were connected. The partnership with the Rwanda Electricity Company (RECO), a public institution, was crucial: the company did the technical studies and cost estimates, and contributed 50% of the grid extension costs, while households were responsible for about $100 connection fee, payable in installments to Reco over a three-year period.
Thanks to this partnership, it even looks that the initial figure of 1,500 households (about 30% of all households) connected by June 2011 is going to be surpassed! ‘The contract with RECO (involves) extending electricity to two more villages, and bringing connection lines closer to households. With the extended lines and increased level of community and RECO participation, the number of households will significantly shoot higher than 1,500,’ says Donald Ndahiro, the Mayange MVP team leader.
Electricity has improved the livelihoods of the community, created new business opportunities and allowed the growth of existing ones, as well as improved health and education services delivery. The value of land and property has quadrupled over one year!
For Ephrem Nkurunziza, electricity has been much more than a light bulb in his classroom. ‘I got the opportunity to get computer and internet training,’ says this teacher at Mayange B primary, which was connected to the grid and received a donation of computers. ‘My home was also connected four months ago. Thanks to the training, I borrowed two computers from one of the schools that is not yet connected to electricity and I set up a training center at home.’
Electricity has even changed the life of Coretta Ntasoni, a housewife who would have otherwise been jobless. Thanks to innovative technology, Coretta can now provide a service to the community and make a living out of it. Indeed, households in Mayange have pre-paid meters called ‘cash power’: residents give money to Coretta, who then provides them with a number that they feed into their meter to get power. With this groundbreaking system, RECO avoids sending out electricity bills at the end of the month and going through the hassle of collecting the money due. ‘I sell cash power and earn an income,’ explains Coretta. With her own house connected to the grid, her children can do their homework at night and she saves money on the cost of kerosene for lanterns. ‘The cost of kerosene was double what I spend on electricity.’