For six years now, Esupat Loseku has known the joy of an income outside of livestock sales. The 29-year-old mother of six installs solar power systems and builds cookstoves in Enguiki village and its environs in northern Tanzania.
In a week, Ms Esupat can serve four homes or even more, charging Tsh25,000 ($11) in her village and Tsh95,000 ($42) elsewhere.
"People come to us inquiring about solar because they have seen it work well at their neighbour's home or have been told about it," said Ms Esupat.
Leah Laiza, a widow and mother of five, is a leader of a solar group in Ngarash village and co-ordinates the installation by her group members.
"We meet every month with project officials and women groups from other villages to share ideas and discuss the way forward ," said Ms Laiza.
Ms Esupat and Ms Laiza are among a group of women in small Maasai villages in northern Tanzania who are championing the use of renewable energy.
The women are part of the International Collaborative Maasai Stoves and Solar Project that has introduced the use of clean energy cookstoves and solar power to the community. The main aim of the project is to alleviate poverty and empower the women.
"We chose to use women because after conducting a few workshops in the villages, we realised that women were more willing and open to the idea than men. So we decided to train them in how to install the cookstoves and the solar panels for lighting," said Prof Robert Lange, the founder and initiator of the project.
The women, trained by USAid, not only distribute and install cookstoves and solar panels in their villages, they also build them using locally available materials.
According to Kisioki Moitiko, the project manager in Tanzania, in each of the 16 villages, the women are selected by fellow women. The installers work in groups of five to 10. The women elect their leaders and manage the installations. Women are trained over a period of about 10 days by other women to install the improved stoves and solar panels.
"For every installation they are paid Tsh25,000 ($11), which they share among themselves," said Mr Kisioki. "This is a subsidised rate; it could have cost Tsh120,000 ($52)."
The organisation invests about $200,000 in the project every year and aims to connect the entire Maasai region in coming years.
According to Prof Lange, the project also aim to promote the use of clean energy in remote villages.
"When we first measured the particulate levels we found them to be about 20 times what the World Health Organisation said was healthy. And the carbon monoxide levels were dangerously high too," he said.
They thus designed chimney stoves that would get rid of over 90 per cent of the smoke. They are convenient, efficient, and used sustainably by Maasai women.
According to Prof Lange, the cookstoves reduce particulate levels from cooking smoke by 90 per cent, alleviating chronic coughing and head congestion, primarily in women and children.
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