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November, 2020

Khadija smiles all the time. In a world where many make due with the best that they can, Khadija is thriving. She smiles in the middle of her concrete shop in Watalo, Sierra Leone. A small business owner, she sells imported fast moving consumer goods— and now solar electricity home plans to her neighbourhood. She was able to get where she is today by being an underpaid midwife for an international NGO that serves disenfranchised women in her community. She saved her coins and bought solar lights. And this changed everything for her and her family. 

Why? Sierra Leone is has an electrification problem. Only 15% of the country’s 7 million have access to the national electricity utility, and in the rural area that figure drops down to a mere 2%. Its here we realise how essential power is for the modern economy. For health care, for safety, for education, for nutrition— power save lives, I’m finding out. The first thing she tells me is that her husband suffered from hypertension for years. Constantly stressed he’s almost had a stroke many times, but having constant power has meant constant access to TV and the internet. This provides a way for Umar to clear his mind, release stress, and have less hypertensive fits. I would’ve never made the connection. Small towns can be stressful, for a father of 4 boys, a public school teacher trying to support his family and give his children a better life. TV is an adequate escape.

Seeing how the solar home systems changed her life, Khadija applied to be a sales woman for Easy Solar— the leading solar power retailer in Sierra Leone. Their systems can be financed, making power clean, safe, consistent and affordable for a population that has yet to be privy to these energy conditions. Solar energy changed her life, and she wanted to change the lives of everyone around her. 

Khadija was not the focus on the business story I was filming for a CNN African business program called Marketplace Africa. She didn’t even make it on to my rough cut nor the final piece produced by the show’s editor. But she and her story were the experience of this particular job, that made my year. The final story was about the many solar power businesses that have flooded the Sierra Leone market and are making high profit margins for it. But it was Khadija’s pride in her ability to give herself and her community safety, health, educational tools (lights for the kids to use to do their homework after school), and power that made the story for me. After her interview Khadija toured me around her town. The reaction was remarkable. Every street we walked through saw swarms of people run out their homes to greet and thank her for the way she changed their lives— or, to ask her for the latest home solar product on sale. 

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