Power to the people: how one woman brought light to her community

When Betty invested her self-help group loan in a solar panel she did more than just connect her village to electricity — she connected them to each other.

Betty with her youngest daughter, Sharon, who has just completed her ordinary level education. Photo: Naomi Nandutu

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Proverbs 31:16

For many people, the story of the woman in Proverbs 31 is just that, a story. But for Betty it is more than just a story, it defines who she is — as a wife (of a pastor), as a mother and, above all, as a business woman.

Betty lives in the Mbale District of Uganda in a village called Bumadanda. Like many of the surrounding villages, Bumadanda is not connected to the electrical grid. However, where many people would see limitations, Betty saw an opportunity. A chance not only to help her family but also her community.

Betty is a member of her Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), a self-help group in which members of the community bring their money and resources together to allow them to take out loans. A few years ago, it was her turn to take out some money and she received 360,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $115 USD). Wisely, Betty invested the loan in a solar panel.

This simple investment has had a great impact on her community. Betty began to charge villagers a small amount to charge their mobile phones from the electricity provided by the solar panel. As a result, people no longer have to walk 17 km to Mbale Town to charge their phones. They are now better connected to the outside world and can access helpful weather, healthcare and banking apps from their phones.

The service provider helped Betty to position the solar panels on the rooftop; Betty has inspired 11 others in her village to invest in solar panels. Photo: Naomi Nandutu

She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.

Proverbs 31:18

Betty did not stop there. From the phone charging business she was able to make enough money to pay off her loan within one year and has since been able to buy another solar panel.

Not being connected to the electrical grid meant that it was very difficult for people to access light at night. Betty realised this and she now supplies enough power to her neighbours to power five light bulbs. Many of the families previously relied on paraffin, which was both expensive and potentially dangerous for their health. These families are now able to cook safely in their homes and their children are able to continue reading after school.

The impact of Betty’s investment has meant ‘there’s more willingness among community members to work together and more VSLA groups have been established ever since.’

Proverbs 31:27 - She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Betty’s enterprising spirit has resulted in blessings for her family, too. She has been able to contribute to her household income and has even bought a television to enable her family to keep up to date with current affairs.

‘I want to encourage all women to believe they can contribute greatly to their family’s well-being and community development,’ said Betty.

The most significant blessing to emerge from Betty’s work for her family is that she and her husband are able to send their son to university to study economics. He will be the first person in their family to have attended university.

Read an analysis of self-help groups in Ethiopia.

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Shaakira Muhammad