Launders’ Gift to Reduce Sexual Violence in Rural Uganda Exceeds Expectations

The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust is the first funder to support the Solar Electric Light Fund’s (SELF) pilot project in Bukyerimba, Uganda.  It is aimed at reducing sexual violence against women and girls who are stalked by predators while collecting water and firewood for their families in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.  By installing solar-powered streetlights and a solar-powered water station, as well as introducing solar cookers for food preparation, the project will significantly decrease the need for females to venture into isolated areas.

Based on the success of the project, SELF and its Ugandan partner, Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF), believe the pilot can be replicated throughout Sub-Saharan Africa where the need is greatest.  In central and eastern Africa alone, the prevalence of sexual violence against women can be as high as 37%. 

Ugandan women carrying water to their village.

SELF has installed a three-story water tower that connects to a distribution network in the village so that no one will have to walk far to get water.    It is no longer necessary for women and girls to spend several hours every day seeking water—with the threat of a brutal attack always on their minds.  Another advantage resulting from the system’s clean water is that water-borne diseases are no longer a threat, especially to young children. 

Solar streetlights now illuminate the project area at night—but not just to increase security.  Students in Bukyerimba and nearby villages congregate at the streetlights to do their homework, and neighbors can now safely gather at night.    Businesses are staying open longer because customers are no longer afraid to be outside after dark.  With businesses staying open, the local economy is starting to improve. 

In 2021, SELF plans to launch a program that will introduce the community to a new kind of cooking that depends upon solar thermal energy from the sun for heat; thus, it drastically reduces the need for collecting firewood.  When wood fires are no longer used for cooking, life-threatening pulmonary conditions from inhaling smoke and ash will no longer be a danger to the women.  The program includes launching a women-run, solar cookstove business. A 10 kW micro-grid will provide light in the RHF safe house, children’s center, and administrative office.  It will also serve several solar-powered appliances—a cell phone charging station, grain mill, and refrigerator (for cold drinks).  The appliances will generate revenue to assure the project’s sustainability and provide an opportunity for the women to learn entrepreneurship.

Hellen Tanyinga surrounded by children from the village.

Even though the project’s entire installation is not yet complete, evidence of success is seen around the community—not just for the women and girls, but everyone.  Hellen Tanyinga, Executive Director of RHF, says that the Kamuli Police Department (where Bukyerimba is located) reports that, since the opening of the water station and the installation of new streetlights, the number of sexual assaults has already dropped by 30%. Add to that statistic that 100% of the people in Bukyerimba have had their lives significantly improved because of their access to clean water and lights.  What started as funding from the Launders Trust to reduce sexual assault has delivered multiple returns on its philanthropic investment.

Contributed by Karen Allen. Karen is the Development Director for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) based in Washington D.C.  Her work at SELF brings her full circle to her early career when she spent time in the bush in Central and South America, where she witnessed first-hand the consequences of energy poverty.

Empowering Women Who Have No Voice in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the United States, women are finally being encouraged to speak out and bear witness to their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Many with access to a media platform have seized the opportunity to tell their stories. But what about those in remote, cut-off parts of the developing world who suffer in silence?

There are millions of women and girls without the means to report that they have been assaulted and raped, especially in arid, Sub-Saharan countries where they often need to walk, unprotected, for miles every day to fetch water in remote areas. Fearing retribution for speaking out against their attackers, most remain silent. In addition to suffering physical, mental, and emotional damage, many end up pregnant and infected with sexually transmitted diseases. For most of the young girls, their lives have been irrevocably changed, offering little hope for their future.

One of the most practical ways to reduce the vulnerability of such women and girls is to eliminate the need for them to leave their villages to search for water. With support from the Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust over several years, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) was able to provide water for drinking as well as irrigation through its Whole Village Solar Electrification project in the communities of Bessassi and Dunkassa in Benin in West Africa. This project changed forever the lives of the women and girls there. No longer do they have to fear the threat of brutal attacks when collecting water. So successful was the Launders-supported project in Benin that SELF is about to launch a similar one in Uganda.

Of course, solar-powered pumps alone cannot prevent every sexual assault. Our intent is that the technology will be coupled with education, public outreach, and strictly enforced laws to protect the women from inappropriate and often brutal assaults.

Whether in a remote village in Uganda or in a modern urban setting in the industrialized world, women deserve to live with dignity and the confidence that they are safe from predation. While the revolution has begun in the U.S., let us not forget the women in Sub-Saharan Africa—and elsewhere in the developing world—who can start to affect change with something as basic as a solar-powered water pump.


Contributed by Guest Author: Robert Freling. Robert is Executive Director of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that has been on the cutting edge of delivering solar solutions to rural villages since 1990. Under his leadership, SELF has pioneered the use of solar power for a wide range of applications including household lighting, water pumping, school electrification, drip irrigation and wireless Internet access. SELF has completed projects in 20 countries, making it a leader among non-governmental organizations in providing practical and cost-effective renewable energy alternatives for the developing world.

Fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Indonesian, Mr. Freling holds a B.A. in Russian Studies from Yale University, and an M.A. in Communications Management from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. Mr. Freling is the recipient of the 2008 King Hussein Leadership Prize.