Solar backpacks help kids do homework in the Ivory Coast


The lack of electricity in rural parts of the Ivory Coast sometimes makes it hard for children to study after dark. Our Observer found an answer to this problem. He created a backpack covered with solar panels, which power a lamp that can provide students with enough light to do their homework.

An estimated 700 million Africans still don’t have regular access to electricity. Most of the people with the least access to electricity live in remote areas.

Our Observer, Evariste Akoumian, decided to tackle this problem by building a school bag adorned with a small solar panel hooked up to a lamp. When the child carries his or her backpack to school, the sun charges the battery. Later, if the child is at home and wants to study after dark, they can just plug the lamp into the battery using a USB cable.

When empty, the backpack only weighs 350 grammes, according to our Observer.

The lamp can run for up to five hours.

“Kids only have about an hour of daylight left to study when they get home from school”

Evariste Akoumian created this special backpack, which he called the "Solarpak".

I work for a company that delivers computer hardware. When I was travelling around the country for work, I noticed that most households in rural areas only have one gas lamp to provide light after dark. Often, there are five or ten people living in one household and, obviously, the parents monopolise the use of the light.

A child finishes school at 4:30 pm. In September, when the school year begins, the sun sets around 6pm. That means that by the time a child gets home from school, he or she only has about an hour of daylight to study by – if that. These are not the right conditions for children to make academic progress. I keep thinking about how it wasn’t fair that these children in rural areas don’t have the same chance for success as children living in cities with electricity.

Our Observer, Evariste, gives backpacks to Ivorian schoolkids.

“I have already given out 200 of these backpacks”

I thought to myself that the solution would need to be a simple device that could provide energy without too much effort. I started thinking about backpacks with built-in solar panels that could collect energy while the child walks to school [Editor’s note: Similar solar-power backpacks are already in use in some places in South Africa and Togo]. In just one day, the solar panels can soak up enough energy to keep the lamp going for four or five hours.

I invested a lot of my own money in this project: about 32 million francs CFA [about 48,000 euros]. With that, I was able to make 500 backpacks. I have given out 200 of them in the villages of Afféry and Songon, to the south of Abidjan.

“With a little help, I could create up to 100 jobs through this project”

For the time being, Evariste has not found sponsors for his project, even if the US Embassy in the Ivory Coast has publicised it. For now, he is importing the backpacks and the solar panels from Asia, and assembling the final product in the Ivory Coast. However, Evariste soon hopes to change that.

For now, I have about 10 people working on this project. I pay some of them while others are volunteers. In a few months, I hope to be able to start manufacturing the backpacks in the Ivory Coast, and hire between 50 and 100 people. I want to build partnerships with schools and NGOs in order to give out as many of these backpacks as possible. I will also sell some of these backpacks, but I have decided to charge no more than 10,000 francs CFA [about 15 euros] for each .

Now, I am looking for partners who can help us produce these backpacks. I am also interested in making these backpacks available in neighbouring countries like Mali, Senegal and Niger. Rural areas in those countries face the same problem of a lack of reliable electricity as villages in the Ivory Coast.

Would you like to help Evariste? To contact him, send us a message at obstakeaction@france24.com