April 12, 2011 – He doesn’t need to do what he does. Evans Wadongo, 25, doesn’t need to build eco-lamps for people living in rural areas who cannot afford kerosene for their lanterns. But he does.
A graduate in Engineering from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Evans loved to invent things when growing up.
“I used to make so many things. I made fire alarms, clocks; basically any time there was a problem, I wanted to invent something that would make things easier,” he told Capital Lifestyle in an exclusive interview.
But his simplest yet greatest invention to date was the eco-lamp. Why? This solar powered scrap metal gadget that was designed for people to poor to afford kerosene for their wicker lamps, has catapulted this humble young man well on the way to super stardom. Though he realised the need for the lamps when he was in school, it was only until he got to University that he solved the problem that weighed heavy on his conscience.
“I grew up in Malava, Kakamega. My father had a job and so we could afford to have (kerosene) lamps at home. We had two, one for my parents and one for us kids. Being the last born of course my elder brothers had priority in using the light. In school though, I would see children from poorer families who could not study at home because their parents could not afford kerosene. I remember seeing many of them fail their exams and eventually drop out of school.”
Evans said he could understand their frustration: “Your parents are making noise because you’re not passing your exams; teachers making noise and caning you for failing exams – it can become very unbearable.”
So years later, after making a lamp using scrap material he had picked up, Evans thought to himself that this was it. He would make these lamps for people back home, who badly needed them.
“I used part of my HELB loan to finance the lamps and then send them home. I involved other students in what I was doing and they too asked me to make lamps that they could send to their villages. Soon, the venture was getting bigger and bigger and so I set up Sustainable Development for All.”
Apart from building and distributing lamps, Wadongo’s NGO also teaches communities to come together and set up sustainable projects. After they generate their own income, they buy the lamps for Sh2,000 or more to extend the help to other members of their community.
“We build other lamps through the purchases, so since it’s like a donation, one can buy a lamp for up to Sh5,000. And that is how we get funds to run the organisation.”
His love for inventions and desire to be of service to others has seen Evans brush shoulders with world leaders and international celebrities. A top-ten CNN Hero finalist and winner of a Gorbachev award, this young Kenyan has something even Barack Obama probably doesn’t have – Halle Berry’s cell phone number.
“I met so many people during the CNN awards; Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, Kiefer Sutherland and so many others. So many of them advised me to get a publicist, and eventually I did.”
Now Evans is flying all over the world, gaining recognition and raising more funds for his organisation than he could ever dream would happen. This month in Las Vegas, there will be a concert mainly featuring African musicians like Awoli Longomba, and part of the proceeds raised will go to Evans’ NGO and help light up rural Kenya.
“I am writing a book that tells the story of setting up and working for this organisation. My story and the people I work with. The book should be out by the last quarter of this year,” he says.
“I enjoy what I do. My father raised us to always help others, because he would say that if we treat other people well it will be a blessing to us and our children. And if there is something a father can do, it is to ensure his children are blessed.”
The young man from Malava has stayed humble despite his mega-achievements because he sees that people in the world of glamour struggle just like he does, and in essence everyone is the same. Jack Bauer the invincible is like any other guy in real life.
Even though Evans, his three brothers and adopted sister have moved on in life, his parents – both teachers – continue to help others in the village, just as they taught Evans to do.
Photo Credits: Susan Wong