Born in the Western part of Kenya, Evans, the youngest of 5 boys, attended Bisunu Primary School, a rural primary school that was a 10 km walk away. After completing his studies there, he attended Kakamega High School, where he graduated with top marks and was consequently listed as one of the top 100 best students in Kenya. When he enrolled at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya he studied electronic and computer engineering and graduated in 2009 with a BSc in Electronics and Computer Engineering.
As a young man growing up in rural Kenya, Evans saw the limitations that came with a lack of electricity in the village and at home. Crowding around single kerosene lamps with his four older brothers was the norm. Under the dim smoky light emanating from the kerosene lamps they tried to study and do homework for school, unaware of the harmful effects the fumes from the lamps posed to the environment and the people who use them.
With both his parents being teachers the importance of education was always stressed to the boys and as a result Evans spent much time around the kerosene lamps that he shared with his siblings. For Evans, the lack of sufficient light to study became frustrating as it led to unfinished homework and poor exam performance. “Many students fail to complete their education and remain poor partly because they don’t have good light,” says Wadongo. Over and above this, the consequences of the kerosene lamps were more permanent as his eyesight, and that of many others, became damaged from the poisonous gases.
Light Bulb Moment
Wadongo’s experience and frustrations didn’t end in him lamenting the problem. In 2004, at the tender age of 19 years old, he found a solution to this and the MwangaBora (“Good Light” in Swahili) solar lamp was developed. The MwangaBora solar lamp is a fume-less light source made up of scrap metal and off-the-shelf photovoltaic panels, batteries, and LEDs. This, his first solar lamp, was made using part of his student loan and subsidised by friends and family, so he could afford to buy the necessary materials. As with most inventions the production of the lanterns was off to a slow start until Wadongo attended a leadership-training program that was sponsored by the nonprofit organization Sustainable Development for All-Kenya. On hearing his dream the group committed to helping Wandongo with his MwangaBora project. Over time they helped him reduce the cost of production of the lamps and well wishing volunteers helped to build them. Since then, some 15,000 lamps have been made and Wadongo says his goal is to make 100,000 solar lamps by 2015.
Realising the communities that needed the product the most were the poor villages similar to the one he grew up in, Evans embarked on his project ‘Use Solar, Save Lives’ as he wanted to use solar technology as a way to save lives in the poor communities that he grew up in. With this in mind Evans made the decision not to sell his lamps but to give them to local communities for free. However, these lamps are given with the understanding that they will be the gift that keeps on giving. To those that Wadongo gives lanterns, they are urged to take the money they will be saving on kerosene and put it into local enterprises that will benefit the community. In order to fund his project Wadongo uses donations from donors and proceeds from exhibitions to provide the lanterns to villages. This “sustainable gifting” mindset has already started yielding results as in the case of Chimvi village in Kenya. Inspired by the MwangaBora, Eunice Muthengi, a Kenyan born US citizen, bought 30 MwangaBora’s and donated them to the women of Chimvi. With the money saved the women set up a micro-lending service and started a craft business with much benefits not only to themselves but the village as a whole. With the profits made from the micro-lending business and the handbags and beads, the women also managed to purchase 120 more lamps giving the village cleaner better light for all.
For Wadongo its not just about the number of lamps bought or sold. He truly believes that his lamps are making a difference and he hopes to ultimately improve education and reduce poverty and hunger with the invention of these solar lamps. Today, solar-powered LED lanterns light up several villages in the rural areas Kenya. Children are able to study and families can buy food with the money they save on kerosene. The solar lanterns have a good impact on the environment too, as they help reduce carbon emissions. In addition, the lanterns help keep children in school by giving off a strong light that can be shared, without risking their health. Evans has dedicated his life to spreading solar-powered lamps throughout rural Kenya to give communities light and hope for a better life.
With Kenya firmly on its way to being lit up, Wadongo plans to extend his project to neighbouring countries that have the same challenges, with Uganda being next on the list. "I want to reach out to as many rural communities as possible," he said. "The impact is saving lives." He has started training interns, from Kenya, the rest of Africa and also from American universities. Over time Evans will be looking to decentralise the production of the lamps in order to provide work for unemployed youths. Wadongo says that he says aims to “directly impact at least five hundred thousand people by 2015 and raise a million people out of poverty by 2018.”
The future for Africa is looking bright!