Improving health and education services for marginalised rural communities in Kenya

Energy 4 Impact, in partnership with the OVO Foundation, is piloting a novel approach to upgrading education and health care services in remote Kenyan communities. Standard sized solar PV systems are being installed, with an ongoing maintenance contract in place to guarantee the supply of power.

How the school or clinic then makes use of the power supply is being tracked and evaluated, both through remote monitoring systems and also through regular field visits, to assess what else needs to be provided to maximise the impact of the intervention. The aim is to provide reliable and appropriate power which can support better quality teaching and healthcare for some of Kenya’s most vulnerable communities.

The programme targets facilities which are outside the state system. Many people in the country’s poorer counties rely on schools and clinics run by religious organisations, community groups or NGOs. These facilities are typically far from the national grid and lack a power supply. This limits the quality of education and health care which can be provided. Some piecemeal provision of solar panels (PV systems) through charitable donation happens, but these PV systems frequently fail after a short period for lack of maintenance.

The OVO Foundation and Energy 4 Impact partnership aims to deliver reliable power to all privately operated education and health facilities which need help in Turkana and Kilifi counties. So far twenty pilot installations have been completed in 16 schools and 4 clinics in Turkana and Kilifi counties.

Energy 4 Impact contracted the Kenya-based company Sollatek to undertake the PV systems installations, and to provide ongoing maintenance support over a three year period. A standardised system size of 800W was used across all sites to simplify delivery. Remote monitoring systems are being trialed in 4 locations to collect data on the performance of the PV systems allowing for early detection of problems, so that necessary steps can be taken to avoid system failures.

Migodomani Primary School, in Kilifi county, serves 290 students, some of them boarders. The school was connected to the grid, but a few months after connection in 2016 the local transformer blew up and the school has been without power ever since, apart from what is provided by a small solar panel for some lights and phone charging. With the 800W system now installed, the school can meet all of its power needs, including being able to charge tablets which they were given by the government but have never been able to use. Staff and students at the school were excited on the day of installation to see one of these tablets finally come to life.

During the initial site assessments for the pilot, Energy 4 Impact staff found that government electrification plans for some state schools and health posts remain a distant prospect. A few public institutions were, therefore included in the programme. Mitsajeni Dispensary in Kilifi is a government run facility serving around 80 patients a week. Until now the dispensary has relied on kerosene lights and bottled gas to meet its energy needs. With the solar installation the facility can now provide a higher level of service, especially after dark.

Staff at the dispensary said: “We are very thankful for this help, we are not sure when we would get access to electricity neither had we expected that we would be able to use some of the equipment we had. This marks a new era for our medical operations at Mitsajeni Clinic.”

Energy 4 Impact staff found many instances of solar systems donated by NGOs which were no longer functioning. Mouneal Shapel boarding school, in Turkana county, caters for 346 students. The compound consists of 14 buildings, including dormitories. The school had a large solar PV system installed on one of its buildings some time ago, but the inverter and batteries had long malfunctioned. This building was being powered by a diesel generator, which also supplies power to other buildings in the school.

The Sollatek team were able to integrate the old solar panels and the diesel generator into the newly installed system, with power from the generator only used as backup power. The improved electricity supply is expected to boost the use of digital learning, and will save the school money.

Representatives from the OVO Foundation will visit Kenya in May to evaluate the pilot with a view to potentially extending this programme to cover a much larger number of schools and clinics. Some of the questions under consideration are whether more should be supplied than just the power system (e.g. tablets in addition to the power systems in schools and healthcare equipment in clinics); and whether there are ways surplus power could be used by schools and health centres to generate income. Data from the remote monitoring will also be analysed and options for alternative monitoring systems reviewed.

OVO Foundation views energy as one of life’s essentials and we’re passionate about bringing reliable, renewable energy to rural communities. We don’t think it’s right that schools and health clinics should be left off the grid and we’re excited to see the impact this project has on learning environments and local health services,

said Gaby Sethi, Head of OVO Foundation and CSR.

The OVO Foundation has a very entrepreneurial approach in wanting to try things out, learn and refine. This aligns well with Energy 4 Impact’s own ethos. Working with the schools and clinics we can create durable solutions which will have a lasting impact on these communities,

said Daniel Kuria, Project Manager and Business Advisor at Energy 4 Impact.

With the increased focus on tablet based learning and the rapid developments in educational software, demand for electricity in schools is growing. Health service providers also need power to operate basic equipment for the diagnosis of illnesses, and for treatment.

In the 14 poorest counties of Kenya an average of 16% of schools are outside the public sector. In Kilifi 26% of schools are privately run, and 36% in Garissa. In the health sector the proportion of clinics outside the state system averages 41%, with 63% of clinics in Kilifi being privately run. Powering these facilities will open up the possibility for improved education and health care service to many marginalised families.

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https://www.energy4impact.org/news/improving-health-and-education-services-marginalised-rural-communities-kenya

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