Launders Trust Helps Launch Solar Energy Project to Reduce Sexual Assaults Against Women and Girls in Uganda

 Women in this rural African village must transport water.

The Launders Trust has made a gift to the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) that, in partnership with the Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF), could provide far-reaching benefits to women and girls in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Collecting water and fuelwood has traditionally been their responsibility. They are forced to walk long distances to isolated areas, often in the dark.  Their cumbersome cargo slows their pace—putting them at a high risk of sexual assault and its life-altering consequences.

 The women collect water from a local source.

The story of Jane, a 20-year-old woman from Butansi Village in eastern Uganda, illustrates the pain and heartache these women endure.  Her dream of becoming a doctor was over in an instant when she hiked into the bush to collect firewood for her family one evening.  She was raped by three teenage boys.  Left sitting in a pool of blood, she pleaded for help from a man passing by.  Instead of acting compassionately, he also raped her.  Jane’s family blamed her for “enticing” her rapists and losing her bride price. She was vanquished from her home and left penniless, pregnant, and infected with HIV/AIDS.  She must still travel across the same treacherous footpaths to gather fuelwood and water to support her twin children who were conceived as a result of the rape.

 Hellen Tanyinga is shown with children in her village.

Yet, from the scattered ashes of those women’s and girls’ hopes and dreams, there are rays of light.  Hellen Tanyinga is one of them.  After many years, her rapist is still at large.  She explains, “A lot of things run through my mind when I think of the attack, but what heals me is that I was able to start the Rape Hurts Foundation. I choose love instead of hatred, and I have turned my pain into a voice for the voiceless.” 

Hellen reached out to the Solar Electric Light Fund, a Washington, DC-based non-profit that has previously received support from the Launders Trust to assist those living in energy poverty, to help address the problem of rampant sexual violence in rural communities. Together, the two organizations created a pilot program that puts clean drinking water stations illuminated with solar streets lights as well as wood-free, solar cook stoves within their community to vastly reduce the need to leave the security of their villages. The project includes revenue-producing services like a solar grain mill to produce flour, charging stations for cell phones, and a solar refrigerator to set up a cold drink business.  In addition, they will charge a nominal fee for drinking water.  These commercial stations not only assure that there is money to maintain and repair the solar equipment; they also provide work opportunities for the women who are being rehabilitated through the Rape Hurts Foundation.  The project also provides electricity to the women’s safe house and the children’s center run by RHF.  Hellen has about 120 mouths to feed every day!  

If the resulting pilot project data makes a strong case for the concept of centralizing resources within villages, the intent of SELF and RHF is to make this model replicable and scalable for other organizations to adopt—leveraging the Launders Trust gift many times over.


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.

Focusing on Deep and Sustainable Impact


Young women in Rwanda benefit from Komera.

Be Strong, Have Courage. This is the meaning of the word “Komera”, the name of a non-profit grant recipient of the Ruth and Hal Launders charitable trust. The founder of Komera, Margaret Butler, embodies these words through her tireless work with young women in Rwanda, but also in her bold and unique approach to impact. While most impact measurement is based on numbers, Komera focuses on the whole person, meaning that each girl accepted as a scholar receives support that is not traditionally offered in community organizations. The girls accepted as scholars receive full tuition to the school that is deemed best for them, health insurance, intensive leadership and social entrepreneurship training, weekly meetings with a Komera mentor to address emotional issues, organized sports to support personal health and increase confidence, access to conferences and speakers, and ongoing coaching and support for their family. Family members of Komera scholars are organized into cooperatives and receive training on business, personal finance, and how to be a mentor to their children – all imperative to each scholars success. With this comprehensive approach, the girls do indeed succeed, with the majority going on to university, a specialized job, or beginning their own business. Komera scholars become changemakers in their community through volunteer work and engagement and their families become leaders in their villages, having learned how to successfully run businesses and mentor their daughter and other children for independence and success.

Komera works with about 50 girls each year, and that number may be seen as low compared to organizations reaching hundreds or thousands each year. They measure their impact and success, however, on the long-term outcomes that their work has on each Komera scholar, their families, and their community. Increased grant money may not necessarily translate into higher numbers of girls served, instead, it may mean new approaches to continue building the successful and happy lives of current scholars. Numbers can be an important indicator while vetting potential grantees, but the Ruth and Hal Launders trust also recognize the value of looking for deep impact, not just wide.

Another grantee of the trust is Youth Interactive, an after-school program for at-risk youth in Santa Barbara, California. This innovative nonprofit focuses on entrepreneurship and the arts as a way to teach teenagers real-life skills, expose them to new opportunities and possibilities, and build the confidence needed for a successful and independent future. Like Komera, Youth Interactive takes a comprehensive approach to the impact they have on these teens lives. In addition to mentoring groups of teens to start sustainable and profitable small businesses, they offer the Get It Done program which brings in mentors from the community to guide teens through milestones and setbacks, including drivers education, one on one tutoring, help applying for financial aid, internships and job shadowing, access and subsidies to summer conferences and educational programs, and most importantly – the knowledge that these teens have several people on their side. Youth Interactive serves only 90 teens per year, but the success can be seen not only in grades, conduct, and graduation rates but also in the long-term goals that the teens are able to set and reach with the help of this village of mentors.

The teens and adults that benefit from most non-profits have incredibly complex, isolating, unique, and challenging lives. The Ruth and Hal Launders charitable trust support organizations like Komera and Youth Interactive to acknowledge these realities, and provide grants for their comprehensive programs that focus on deep and sustainable impact in each human being they serve.

Contributed by Guest Author – Whitney Webb: Whitney is the great niece of Ruth and Hal Launders and the daughter of Jack Webb, a Trustee of the foundation. She is the founder of Launch Education which educates and mentors the next generation of wealth holders on financial and philanthropic matters and the co-founder of Launch Generation which runs summer programs for teenagers focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Whitney is proud to support the hard work of the RHLCT trustees and the impact of their grants program.