MBALE, Uganda — If you have not visited remote African villages, you have not witnessed the meaning of “poverty.” Some 600 million people live without electricity, and 300 million do not have access to clean water. I remember all the African aid projects over the years, including “We Are the World” in 1985. Yet today, hundreds of millions of people still live in sub-human conditions.
Enter Israel — or more specifically, an Israeli woman named Sivan Ya’ari, and Israeli technologies.
Sivan founded Innovation Africa 10 years ago after seeing these sad living conditions first-hand. I visited some of the villages in Africa this past week, as the organization’s executive vice president for Government and Community Affairs.
It filled me with tremendous pride to see how Israeli technologies are changing and saving lives.
The crown jewel of this effort are the water projects. Prior to their installation, villagers — including the children — would spend most of their days looking for water, walking for hours to find any source of water — usually very polluted — and then walk back.
But things are changing. Today, Innovation Africa brings fresh, clean water from the aquifers to the villages via solar-powered water pump systems installed using a variety of Israeli technologies. Aside from saving people from dying of thirst, these water projects also improve hygiene, and enable the surrounding villages within a few-kilometer range of the pump to maintain their livestock and their fields.
In Uganda, I visited one such village that was celebrating the recent installation of their clean water system, with sheer joy and appreciation.
Innovation Africa also installs a drip irrigation system which enables the villagers to grow their own crops and start their own produce businesses. The life-transforming impact this has on everyone in the village – especially the women, who go from day-long seekers of water to farmers and entrepreneurs – is startling.
While it was difficult to see the despair on the faces of people waiting in line at a village medical center, at least the center I visited had electricity: the best doctors are now willing to work in these remote villages because they have a refrigerator to store vaccines and medications; and women can now give birth at nighttime without having to bring their own candles or kerosene lamps, as had been standard before. Lives are being saved on a daily basis as a result of this relatively simple solution.
On my visits to schools that now also have electricity, I saw in the eyes of students, staff and the administration how just a few light bulbs can give a child hope for a better future. The solar-powered electricity enables students to study before and after school hours, allows for schools to function for a full day during the months when the sun sets early, provides children with the opportunity to use computers if they become available or are donated, and draws the best teachers to the school. Children in villages throughout Africa who never dreamt of going to university and a career are now filled with hope, and pursuing their dreams.
To date, Innovation Africa has improved the lives of over one million people in eight African countries, and 350,000 children have been vaccinated. There is still a lot of work to do, as we strive to revolutionize 1,000 villages by 2025. But as I leave Africa, I do so with great pride — we are truly living up to our Biblical mission to be a “light unto the nations.”