13 January 2013

Rwanda: Young Technician Shines a Bright Light in His Community

Jean-Claude Nkeshimana is a happy, shy, soft-spoken young man, not exactly the type you would expect to make a big difference in people's lives. Yet that is exactly what he is doing.

He lives in one of the settlements built for the poor in Rango Cell, Tumba Sector (Butare). He's a fresh high school graduate who eagerly waits to use the skills he acquired to create a different life. He lives with his handicapped mother and little brother.

If there are people who despise poverty, Nkeshimana might be on top of the list. He came face to face with it a few years ago when his mother became sick for months and told him that she could no longer pay for his school fees. Even though he had successfully passed ordinary level exams, he had to drop out school. He spent a whole year at home.

But he did not lose hope. He has asked fellow students to send him notes every day at home and he revised every evening. In the end the school - after realizing how smart he is, his endurance, courage and sacrifice - referred him to a benevolent organization that agreed to pay for his studies.

Nkeshimana passed the 4th year exam and easily succeeded. He was readmitted back at Ecole Secondaire St. Jean-Bosco (Maraba, Butare) where he combined of Mathematics, Economy and Geography.

"It wasn't easy to study knowing that it wouldn't earn you anything," he says. "I remembered how poverty kicked me out of school, how I couldn't even buy medicines for my mother, and I wanted to quit everything and become a street kid. But I stayed strong because I knew that what separated me from school kids is sitting for tests and exams only."

When he was at school, he used to occasionally ask permission for leave with the excuses that he had to go home to look for notebooks. That wasn't true; he instead used that opportunity to work the family's small farm. He would come back again later for harvesting. He studied while at the same time taking care of the chores his handicapped mother had done in the past.

No electricity

Yet Nkeshimana also had eyes for the problems of his community.

"Most of the time I came, I found the whole settlement immersed in darkness. Nearly everyone was complaining that they couldn't afford to buy lantern oil every night. No one has electricity here, and those ones who wanted to bring it were informed by EWSA that they must pay themselves for the concrete power masts to be connected. At Frw 60,000 each, no one can find that money; it's impossible."

So he came up with a better solution that would require almost nothing to bring light to the poor communities with a technique he learned from friends. What they do is going all around collecting used lighters who have small LED lights in them. They remove the lamps and connect it to drained radio batteries using wires.

Nkeshimana admits it doesn't give really bright light as real bulbs do, but it allows you to read a book. He says that 4 drained radio batteries, which they collect along the streets, can be used for 3 weeks. One time he bought 3 new batteries to illuminate their house for 2 months.

Over time, he has developed new ways to enhance his skills. He now takes a fluorescent lamp, carefully slices its two ends, places two LED bulbs on each side, seals the tube and the light it produces is the same as that of a real florescent lamp.

"People here no longer buy candles and lantern oil, they all use these lights to save money for something else. I don't charge them for anything because we share the same problems. I know they are poor families, I know what they feel. I'm just helping them, especially those with school kids who must revise every night."

Nkeshimana thinks that his skills can become something that society will benefit from if he gets proper professional training. He says that he can use it to train people in the settlements and to create jobs for the poor people.

"I'm appealing to the Minister of Youth and ICT to come and visit us one day, and to encourage us. We will be grateful to show them the skills we've achieved."

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