John volunteered with Restless Development in 2001 in Tanzania. He is now managing director of Sunny Money in Kenya, which sells quality solar lighting. His volunteering experience influenced his career path tremendously, and he has visited the village where he had his placement on many occasions.
John with young people from the village of Uhominyi, Tanzania
I volunteered in the village of Uhominyi, in Tanzania in 2001 and it was a complete life-changer. It was my first experience of Africa and definitely changed my outlook on life. Along with other volunteers, I helped set up an Environment Club at the local school and taught people in the village how to build efficient wood stoves. What I saw on my placement influenced what I have chosen to do in my career. After I returned to the UK, I thought, what could I do to have an impact in the place that I stayed while volunteering? This led me to research solar energy.
I have stayed in touch with volunteers and other Alumni that I went to Tanzania with and I have attended reunions with them when I have been back in the UK. I have also visited the place where I volunteered in Tanzania a few times and have kept intouch with some of the Tanzanians that I volunteered with - it was nice to go back and have proper conversations with them in Swahili as my language skills have definitely improved over the years!
After my placement of living without electricity but seeing many people with Kerosene for lighting and radios with no way to continually fund the batteries for them, I thought that solar panels could bea popular product to power radios, lighting and mobile phones. I helped set up the Kibera Community Youth Project, which created a small workshop where the youth of Kibera were able to work to produce solar panels. In 2004 I started a project which provided DIY solar products - this set people up as entrepreneurs in Kenya,Tanzania and West Africa. In 2006 I made contact with the company Solar Century, which, unbeknownst to me, was about to establish an independent solar charity, SolarAid. It was established the same year and I was lucky enough to help build it into a respected international organisation as its head of programmes. About a year ago, we turned a project within SolarAid called SunnyMoney into a social enterprise and I became managing director at the start of this year. Sunny Money sells quality solar lights in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania, reducing reliance on expensive,poor quality fuels such as kerosene and disposable, short life batteries. Our mission is to eradicate the kerosene light from Africa by the end of this decade. I often think back to my experience that I had volunteering with Restless Development (then SPW) as it helps me understand who Sunny Money are trying to reach and acts as reality check for all the work I do.
Sunny Money's work was recently featured on the BBC World Service online, to read the article visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18262217. To find out more about Sunny Money please visit their webpage http://sunnymoney.org/ and to follow John and his journey from being a volunteer to Managing Director visit his blog page http://johnkeane1.wordpress.com/