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Project Stories

Featured Project - Small, Portable Generator Empowers Rural Rwanda

RWIMIYAGA, Rwanda – In this village, a three-hour drive from Kigali, people rely on firewood and kerosene to light their homes after sunset; and when they need to charge cell phones, a now ubiquitous technology throughout Africa, they must make a several hour trip to the nearest city’s power station.

Rwanda is a small but hilly country, making it expensive and difficult to extend the national electric grid to villages. More than 95 percent of Rwanda’s 8.9 million people do not have access to electricity, according to the UNDP.

 People gathering around the Weza
Villagers gather around to see how the Weza generator works.
Now a small, portable, foot-powered generator is providing the electric services that most Rwandans lack. Forty such generators, being piloted through a 2006 Development Marketplace (DM) grant, are reaching 3,500 people. The project is carried out by Weza-maker Freeplay Foundation and CARE International, which guarantees micro loans through a Rwandan bank so that citizen groups can access finance to purchase the generators.

The Weza generator helps spur economic activity, as villagers use its light to extend their working hours into the night, and empower Rwandans to be better connected, whether by communicating with family members in other regions or striking deals on the sale of bananas and cassava, said Augustine Niyonsaba of CARE.

“Grid-independent energy is the key to establishing immediate, sustainable rural energy solutions,” he said. “Weza is a state-of-the art, portable energy source, offering dependable power anywhere and at anytime.”

Weza, which in Swahili means “power,” is produced in South Africa. Pumped with one foot, the generator can charge a cell phone battery in five minutes and a car battery in half an hour.

When Afonsin Ntabangnyimana, head of a local community association in Rwimiyaga heard about the Weza, she knew it made sense for her villages’ 450 residents. Although owning a Weza meant that the association needed to borrow a micro credit of about $330, the decision to make the purchase was made unanimously by the association’s 12 members. Now the association charges a small user-fee of about 18 cents for charging a cellular phone battery, an amount equivalent to what residents pay to watch a movie at a local community facility.

In the early months, an average of six people rented the Rwimiyaga Weza per day. At this rate, the association will pay off its loan within a year. But as word of the generator spreads, more villagers are renting it, bringing pure profit to the association. 

As its generator became popular, Weza-maker Freeplay Foundation introduced a companion product, a LED light that looks just like an eye-ball and can be charged by a Weza. The light costs about $3.60 and it a good alternative to kerosene lighting, said Niyonsaba. 

For Rwandans like Sebahigi Samuel, the little light is changing old habits. Instead of only riding his bicycle during the day, he now uses the light on the front of his bike in the evenings, which allows him to go for water later in the day, or work longer hours on his cassava field. Samuel also says he now feels safe letting his children use the outdoor toilet on their own in the middle of the night.

More than 1,000 cooperatives and associations throughout Rwanda are now interested in Weza, as well as development groups in Zambia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Angola, said Niyonsaba.  

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