By: Willow Welter with Jehojakim Sangare   |   Posted: March 06, 2017

Solar panels provide power to an African community and safe water to sponsored children and their families.

Church Sheds Light on Critical Needs

Solar panels provide power to an African community and safe water to sponsored children and their families.

Written by Willow Welter with Jehojakim Sangare
Photography by Jehojakim Sangare
Girls at a Burkina Faso Compassion center washing hands
In the community of Sak Sida on the outskirts of Burkina Faso’s capital, power is scarce. Less than 5 percent of Burkina Faso’s rural population has access to electricity. That includes sponsored children and Compassion’s church partners in Sak Sida.

Because Burkina Faso is sunny most of the year and solar power is free after an investment in panels, the Burkinabe government wants to see most of the country’s energy generated from solar sources. The World Bank is helping finance Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thiéba’s efforts to build solar plants and encourage businesses to install solar units as part of a transition toward clean, renewable energy.

But few residents can afford solar panels — especially in a country where 43 percent of people live on less than $1.90 a day. Some homes and businesses have electricity, but blackouts are common. Many people rely on expensive batteries, kerosene and candles for energy. Parents trying to run small businesses to generate income for their families struggle to operate without power. Hospitals and schools go without electricity much of the time. And although the wealthiest families and business owners can afford generators, most residents of Sak Sida could never dream of such a luxury.

Compassion’s church partners in Sak Sida recognized the community’s need for power. But they faced a more pressing need — that for water. Many families spend hours each day fetching water, taking them away from other activities like school and work. Many have no choice but to use water from unclean sources, leading to frequent, life-threatening diarrheal illnesses. And a church that runs Compassion’s program had additional water woes.

Women wash clothes in a polluted lake in Burkina Faso

Women wash clothes in a polluted lake in Burkina Faso.

Caption

“For many years, we had troubles running the activities on center days because of water-related issues,” said Olivier Kabre, director of the Compassion center. “We were buying up to five [53-gallon] barrels of water to cook the meals for the 421 registered children.”

So Olivier and his fellow program leaders thought of a solution that would address both needs in Sak Sida: a solar-powered borehole. Compassion sent them funds designated for such critical interventions to install a system outside the church and Compassion center. It connects solar panels to two giant batteries and a converter that provides more than enough power to run water taps. Children and their parents come to the church to enjoy safe drinking water from taps that remove the risk of waterborne illnesses.

“Now things have really changed for the better because water is now readily available for free at any time.”

— Olivier Kabre, Children's Director

The panels also provide electricity to the church and Compassion center. From an operations perspective, Olivier and his five colleagues who run Compassion’s program now enjoy solar-powered computers, printers, lights and fans — a reprieve during hot working hours in Sak Sida. Olivier says the sustainable solution saves them precious time and money.

“Now, we can submit our reports from the office on time,” he says. “No more need to drive far into town to print a document. Everything is available at the center thanks to the solar-power system.”

Olivier Kabre, Compassion Center Children's Director
The solar system powers water taps at the Compassion center

The solar system powers water taps at the Compassion center.

Caption
The system consists of solar panels, two massive batteries and a converter

The system consists of solar panels, two massive batteries and a converter.

Caption

Thanks to the solar system, the church has become a source of light for the whole community. As one of the only buildings in town with reliable light at night, more community members have begun coming to evening prayer groups and other activities, church leaders say. Children have new reasons to frequent the church too.

“At night, students are always around in the church compound to study under the solar lights. The church is very proud and happy to contribute to the education of children by giving them the opportunity to learn at night on the church premises, as they lack electricity at home,” Olivier says.

Like sponsors invest in the lives of children to develop them over time, Compassion’s church partners in Sak Sida have invested in a long-term solution to meet their community’s power and water needs. Our church partners around the world are always thinking of similar ideas to meet their community’s unique needs so that sponsored children can focus on learning, their parents can focus on working and the constraints that keep families in poverty can begin to dissipate.