Meet grandmother who brought solar electricity to power her village

Our children are able to study at night, people are able to get work done at night, she said, on the sidelines of the International Government Communication Forum in Sharjah

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Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Thu 14 Sep 2023, 1:25 PM

Last updated: Thu 14 Sep 2023, 5:53 PM

In her small village in Madagascar, Yolande never knew of a time when children could study or people could work at night. That’s because her village of Ambakivau did not have clean electricity. What little electricity they had was created by machines using petrol and it was sparsely available as well as expensive.

However, this 53-year-old grandmother changed that forever by bringing clean, solar-powered electricity to over 200 households in her community for the first time in 2017. The village has now halved its energy consumption despite being fully powered by electricity.

The inspirational activist was speaking at the opening of the 12th edition of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF), which was organised under the theme Today's Resources... Tomorrow's Wealth'. She had a very powerful message to give her audience in Sharjah.

“My message for women is, don't shy away from any challenges,” she said. “ Participate actively in whatever way you can. Even if you are illiterate, you can bring positive changes to those around you. That is a responsibility you have. Not only to your personal life, but to your community.”

Later, speaking to Khaleej Times through a translator, on the sidelines of IGCF she explained that the electricity had changed the village forever. “We have security,” she said. “Our children are able to study at night. People are able to get work done at night.”

The prospect of power

It was in 2016 that some government officials visited her village. They screened a documentary film about how a group of women in another village had transformed their lives with solar energy. They offered the opportunity to Yolande and her community. However, the women would have to travel to India and stay there to learn the technology.

“None of us had ever travelled before,” she said. “So we called a meeting of our community and discussed the plan.”

Yolande herself had multiple discussions with her family members before deciding to go. Since it was the first time they were travelling, they had to complete several rituals before setting off. “We have a lot of customs,” she said. “So we had to hold some celebrations and rituals before travelling.”

At the same time, the four women who decided to go to India, formed a committee. They made a list of the people in the village who wanted electricity. “There were about 200 people,” she said.


From the moment they landed in India, the four-women group faced several challenges. “We didn’t know a word in English,” she said. “We communicated most of the time using sign language. We were also not familiar with the food.”

However, the women persevered and spent six months learning the manufacturing and maintenance of solar energy systems.

The real work of the women started when they came home. “We had to wait for five months for the solar materials to reach Madagascar,” she said. “Once it came, we started working tirelessly. We repaired and maintained the solar panels and soon we were able to provide electricity to all 200 of the people who were on our list.”

After two years, Yolande went one step further and set up a training centre in her own village. “Now, all the machine are being installed, maintained, and operated by the illiterate women of my village,” she said. “No one has to go to India. We train them in our village and we teach them a little bit of solar energy, literacy, agriculture and animal husbandry. We also have sports sessions to keep them healthy.”


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