How does an NGO combine sustainable energy with family planning and reproductive health services?  It can only happen in Africa, where there’s serious demand for both.  Pathfinder International’s integrated programs in Uganda are helping to kill two giant birds with one stone.

Remote Bussi Island, in Lake Victoria, is home to a number of small fishing communities.  The island has little infrastructure and is not connected to the national grid.  Most people use small paraffin (kerosene) lamps to see at night, provided they can afford to buy the paraffin.

Pathfinder, who has been working to improve maternal health and increase access to family planning services on the island for several years, knew that nurses and other health care workers struggled to carry out essential services once the sun set. Solar-generated electricity became the solution for Bussi’s Health Center as well as other health centers in the country.

Above, a woman receives a hormonal implant in her arm. “When we didn’t have the solar panel that Pathfinder gave us, deliveries were a big problem. You had to deliver three babies, but the paraffin was over after the first…we had to turn people away,” says Christine Wanyana, the head nurse at Bussi Health Center.

The majority of hospitals and health centers in Uganda lack telephone service as well. Now nurses can bring mobile phones to work and keep them charged, insuring that they can communicate with doctors, suppliers, or patients’ families. Above, nurse Christine Wanyana charges her mobile phone in what has been dubbed “The Solar Suitcase.” Below, a child receives a polio vaccine at Bussi Health Center.

Pathfinder’s community outreach family planning services have helped bring solar lights into homes as well. By night, Elizabeth Mbambu travels around villages near Kasese, Uganda to discuss family planning with women in their homes. With her she brings solar-powered phone chargers and lanterns to illuminate the contraception and family planning visual aids she discusses. The discussion is followed by a sales pitch to her client for the table lamps and lanterns she brings with her. Many times she’s successful and takes home the profits.

The program works because Pathfinder gets their message out, Elizabeth receives a wage, and people in rural areas gain access to affordable, sustainable electricity. What new things can Pathfinder integrate into family planning services? It seems the sky’s the limit, even when it’s dark.