In the villages of Nairobi, Kenya lived a boy named Evans Wadongo who was having a lot of trouble finishing his homework. The problem was not that they were tough but that there was not enough light for him to complete his studies at night. The boy grew up with average grades and admonishments from his teachers for never being able to hand in a good piece of homework. This boy, at age 23, grew up to solve his lifelong problem and the problem of millions of students all across Kenya by inventing solar-powered LED lantern. He lighted up his whole country with his ingenious idea that earned him CNN Hero stature in 2010.
The idea hit him while experimenting with the timing of LED (light-emitting diode) Christmas lights at his dorm. As he put it, "I knew it would have to be sourced from the sun to be useful to people in rural areas," he said, "but I had never seen a solar panel small enough for individual homes.”
While an artisan helped him design the solar lantern, his family and friends also stepped forward to make his dream come true. The most help was from a non-profit social organisation called Sustainable Development for All-Kenya. They took the leap of faith in Wadongo’s idea and put effort and investment in making thousands of solar-powered lamps.
According to Wadongo, about 1000 solar panels have been distributed so far. Families in Kenya can now use solar-powered lamps that help them save money by cutting out the cost of kerosene and can buy food with that money. The solar lamps are not only lighting up families’ homes, but also reducing hunger. Wadongo calls his solar-powered lamps MwangaBora, which means “good light”.
Wadongo has made the lantern project his life, often eating only a meal a day to save money to make more lanterns and help more families, "I want to reach out to as many rural communities as possible, the impact is saving lives." And his good will and hard work earned him respect all around the globe.
Wadongo was named among '30 under 30'-Africa's best young entrepreneurs by Forbes, Top 35 Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review, 20 Men Who Will Shape the Next 20 Years by Esquire magazine, Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, and Mikhail Gorbachev Awards for "The Man Who Changed the World." He is also one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes and was a finalist for Humanitarian Hero Award and the inaugural Innovation Prize for Africa.
To Wadongo the satisfaction does not come from worldwide fame or honour, but knowing in his heart that he is helping thousands of poor children across Africa who would not have to suffer as he did.