1 November 2018

Cote d'Ivoire: Solar-Powered School Bags Changing Cote d'Ivoire's Education

"No child should study in the dark": Evariste Akoumian, a 37-year-old Ivorian, invented the "Solarpak", a schoolbag with a solar panel and a lamp, to improve the education of young schoolchildren from rural, non-electrified areas. Using the lamp, children can now comfortably study after dark.

Trained lawyer and former computer retailer turned tech-entrepreneur, Evariste Akoumian made note of the lack of electricity coverage across the country while travelling for work. He saw how this was an obstruction to the education of Ivorian children. He felt the need to take on the challenge of changing this reality for the better.

"I told myself that I had to help these children; find ways to make them autonomous. I found it unfair that they did not have the same opportunities as those who study in big cities, "Akoumian told Umurage.

By focusing on addressing this immediate need, rather than on the entire country's energy insufficiency, Akoumian came up with the Solarpak.

"In Africa, we have plenty of sun, so why not think of a way to use that source to help these children so that they can do better in school?" he continued.

The bag, which cost 13 000 CFA francs (20 euros, US$23) has a solar panel on the back and a detachable lamp that can be powered by the battery using a simple USB cable. The placement of the solar panel allows for effortless exposure to the sun as the children walk to and from school. The battery takes a half an hour to charge fully and has a battery life of four to five hours to power the LED reading light.

This reading light allows the children to complete after-school assignments and study as needed, thus improving their performance and improving their odds.

"Don't these children have the right to succeed?" Akoimmian said of the injustice of this situation.

In its time of operation, Solarpak has donated thousands of bags, sold 55 000 and expects to sell 60 000 in 2018, according to Africa News. The tech startup is also exporting the school bags to Gabon, Madagascar, Burkina Faso and NGOs in France and Germany.

The bags are not just functional but they also serve the intended need as a child-friendly carrier. "These rural children are poor. They use rice sacks or plastic bags to take their things to school. The idea was to kill two birds with one stone: give them a backpack- and a light to go with it."

Striving to keep up with demand, Akoumian is seeking aid and loans so that he can set up an assembly plant in Abidjan and boost production, as reported by the Standard. This will also empower the parents of the children he set out to help.

"There is not enough jobs and money here," he said. "Children are disadvantaged here. With the backpack, I hope they will all progress. I hope their marks will improve."

He hopes to reach 10 million schoolchildren around the world one day. "I want young people to believe in themselves, to always move forward, to live their dreams. Nothing is impossible to those who believe. If you have a dream, you have to make sure it comes true," Akoumian told Umurage.

Since launching Solarpak, has received the Award of Merit at the Africa Expansion Forum in Montreal, been awarded the 2018 African Prestigious Awards and was a finalist in the 2018 African Talent Awards.

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