Kenyan youngster gears up for CNN Heroes finals

November 10, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 10 – Twenty-three-year old Evans Wadongo will know on November 25 if he is the CNN Hero for 2010, when selection is made from among 10 finalists.

The young enterprising Kenyan was selected as a top 10 CNN Hero for his work in lighting up his village with solar powered lanterns.

His innovative programme dubbed \’Use Solar, save Lives\’ was showcased worldwide on CNN alongside other innovative achievers from across the globe. Mr Wadongo is the only African among the CNN Heroes for 2010.

He was selected into the top 10 by a panel comprising renowned business leaders, philanthropists and celebrities among them entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, Sudanese Super Model Alek Wek,  rap sensation and singer Ludacris and the legendary former boxer Mohammed Ali.

If he gets voted as the finalist he stands to take home $100,000, equivalent to some Sh8 million.

The youngest of four children, Mr Wadongo grew up under exposure to smoke while studying by kerosene and firelight, leaving him with eyesight problems because of lack of proper light to study with.

In 2004, while studying Agriculture and Technology at university, Mr Wadongo found the answer. He was fiddling with an experiment involving the timing of LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights when it struck him… the environmentally friendly light source could be used to light rural homes!

To help get the project started, Mr Wadongo\’s family and friends subsidised his student loans for two years. Production of the lanterns was slow until Mr Wadongo attended a leadership training program,e sponsored by the  non-profit Sustainable Development for All, Kenya.

The group has helped reduce production costs to $20 per lantern (Sh1,600). Costs are covered by donations. Volunteers help build the lanterns and work with local government and women\’s groups to determine the communities most in need. The group sets a small percentage of the cost of each lamp to go toward the volunteers.

"We\’re helping them to earn a living. They\’re able now to sustain their families," he said.

His solution was based on providing households with solar powered lighting with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by eliminating the use of fossil fuels. The programme has had a massive impact on education as it enables children in rural areas to study at night free of side effects of fumes emanating from burning kerosene lamps. 

Out of this initiative, over 14,000 solar lanterns and over 20 economic ventures have been set up in various communities to date.

Brand Kenya Board has been urging Kenyans to come out in large numbers and vote for Mr Wadongo on to help hit the jackpot and give a big boost to Kenya\’s image.

The CEO of Brand Kenya Board Mary Kimonye said that innovative Kenyans such as Mr Wadongo were playing a significant role in promoting Kenya\’s brand image in the world through their activities.

Mr Wadongo will travel to the Unites States for the awards ceremony during which he is scheduled to hold media interviews, meet global business leaders and executives from Microsoft and Apple.

He is also expected to visit Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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