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EMPOWERING CHILDREN

Light to study by at night, thanks to a school bag

IVORY COAST • Little Michel Koutouan's grades have been improving lately and he readily gives credit to his specially-invented solar backpack.

There is no electricity at his home in Songon, a village in the south-eastern region of the Ivory Coast, which makes it hard for him to study at night. But this changed for him and dozens of other children in Songon and the nearby village of Grand Aferi, when they were given the backpacks.

The bags have a solar plate that stores energy from the sun during the day and is then used to power an LED lamp to provide hours of light each night.

The man behind the Solarpak, Mr Evariste Akoumian, came up with the idea when he was delivering computer equipment and office supplies to remote villages around the country that lacked electric power.

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"We said to ourselves: In Africa, we have lots of sunshine which is free. Let's figure out an easier and more efficient solution to help these children so that they can have better academic results," he said.

It took Mr Akoumian two years of research and six months of field testing to finalise the product.

An Ivorian child carrying a Solarpak. Mr Evariste Akoumian hopes his project will provide easy access to electricity in Africa, where 700 million people live without power.
An Ivorian child carrying a Solarpak. PHOTO: EVARISTE AKOUMIAN

LIGHTING UP THEIR LIVES

We said to ourselves: In Africa, we have lots of sunshine which is free. Let's figure out an easier and more efficient solution to help these children so that they can have better academic results.

MR EVARISTE AKOUMIAN, who came up with the idea of the Solarpak when he was delivering computer equipment and office supplies to remote villages around the Ivory Coast that lacked electric power.

He then distributed 500 free solar bags to people in four localities of the Ivory Coast.

He hopes his award-winning project will provide easy access to electricity in Africa, where 700 million people live without power.

But getting it off the ground is a challenge. Even with help from the US Embassy in the Ivory Coast to spread the word, Mr Akoumian has little financial support for his solar bags, which cost €18 (S$30), including taxes, each.

Currently, he imports the bags and small solar panels from Asia and assembles them in the Ivory Coast. He hopes to raise funds to have everything made domestically. "Then, we will not only bring electricity to those who don't have access to it, but we will also create jobs in our country."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Light to study by at night, thanks to a school bag'. Print Edition | Subscribe