By Chinenye Anekwe, Solar Sister
Taking up challenges is what can be used to describe Catherine Omowumi Olapade, a Solar Sister Champion who resides in Ayegunle area of Ilorin South LGA, a suburb of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. As a secondary school teacher and also a farmer, the 55-year-old single mother of four wanted to train all her children in school. Catherine was a victim of domestic violence from her ex-husband who beat her up, set the house she first built on fire, rendering she and her children homeless. On two different occasions, he even tempered with her car brakes, just trying to make her have a car crash. In her words “He even burnt my car and put me into debts, but God has always taken control of my situations“.
One of the most difficult challenges Catherine faced in the past six years was her sleeping in an uncompleted building with her children after they were evicted from the rented apartment she stayed in after her broken marriage.
Determined to increase her income to get at least a roof over her children’s heads, Catherine became a Solar Sister Entrepreneur in mid 2018 and grew her business from an initial startup capital of 43,500 (around USD 120) to buying products worth over 1.6 million naira (around USD 4,400 ) in one year. She has been able to reach over 200 users with clean energy in different communities.
In January 2019, Catherine purchased a small piece of land (half a plot) in her community from the profit of her Solar Sister business. Now, she has happily moved into the one room and parlor which she built on the land. She built the house from the proceeds from her Solar Sister business, teacher’s salary and farm produce. The house is not comfortable for habitation because it is not yet completed, but that does not bother her much. “I have a place I can call home again without harassment from my husband or any landlord”, she says. Catherine plans to keep increasing her business and saving the profits, ensuring to save to enable her complete the house in the nearest future. Catherine’s profit from her solar business really helped her in building the house, supported her transportation to her place of work and even her children’s educational needs.
Catherine is so happy today that the Solar Sister business opportunity has given her some financial independence and self-confidence. “People always called me debtor and I don’t want to be associated with my past anymore. This business has given me so many opportunities in life since I started.”
Her words “My clean energy business has given me a lot of exposure; in fact, last year, I was given the position of a Vice Principal in my school. One of my solar customers gave me the connection, which I thank God for today. I have impacted the lives of people using my products in so many ways. For example, one of my customers told me she used to fight with her husband on managing their gas burner every month. But since they bought a stove from me, they now save some money because they now spend less on cooking, like 1,000 naira for gas per month instead of 4,200 naira before. In my house, I can’t afford to connect electricity, [so] we use solar for lighting and the charcoal stove too. My clothes don’t smell smoky anymore, and don’t have holes on my clothes caused by the firewood stones I used for cooking before. Even in my school, where my colleagues used to make jest of me before, now they come to me seeking advice on how to do a successful business. They now reckoned with me, and the majority of them believed that I have already secured my post retirement with [my] solar business. I pray to continue the business even after retirement because I am 55 years now, hence retirement is right around the corner. I have understood the business very well and I am now a role model to other people in my community.”
*This piece has been realized for the International Women’s Day within the scope of ENERGIA’s Empowering Women, Engendering Energy (EWEE) Programme, co-funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) and in close collaboration with our partners CRT/N, Energy 4 Impact, Practical Action, TANGSEN and Solar Sister.