Africa was not at all what I expected…

Meeting students at a school in Musanze District, Rwanda

The rains kept coming. As did the mud. And my doubts. Not at all what I expected. This is what kept going through my mind as we carved our way along the washed-out, jolting muddy roads 2 hours outside Kigali, Rwanda. My husband had been telling me for years about the beauty of this country, and I could literally hear the excitement in his voice about Hydrobox. Solar power. Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. About our personal investments there. It all sounded amazing, but to be honest, I put it in my mental bucket of “Africa talk.” Everyone I’ve met who’s gone there comes back raving about their experience. My judgmental side has always deduced that people come back high on Africa because it makes one feel good to do charity work. And being on the far side of the world adds muscle to the story. Who doesn’t love helping those in need? Who wouldn’t want to add Africa to their story of charity work?

A temporarily flooded walking bridge due to recent rains on the Gondo river, located near a Hydrobox plant in Kenya

Not at all what I expected… but why? Apart from the ruggedness and departure from the typical “corporate trip” vibe (which I was completely okay with), it was because I discovered the profound reality of impact investing. Two of these realities are the dignity it brings people and the far-reaching sustainability it provides. Take for instance my experience on the banks of the raging Gondo River in muddy boots (having hiked along a slippery, rocky, slop-caked trail) with wet hair, and completely filled with awe. This river cut through some of the most beautiful country. The engulfing hills burst heavy with vibrant green tea bushes and terraced plots of potatoes and carrots and cabbage all looming above us. And there, waving to us across the other side – a rickety wooden bridge washed out by the river between us – was a father, mother, and young son with the brightest smiles on their faces as they looked up from digging their potatoes. A wave saying both “Welcome!” and “Thank you!” Right there on that river, Hydrobox has brought them reliable power. Sustainable. Clean. And I must say again, reliable power. This reliability brings dignity in work, production and income. A new way to a new and thriving life.

Among numerous other locations, we visited the Gigawatt Global solar power farm atop the hill next to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. Leasing the land from Agahozo and establishing the first solar power farm in Africa is a win-win for all. The Village receives income from the lease and in return, power is supplied to the national grid. Seeing the grounds of this breathtaking haven teeming with genocide-orphaned high schoolers who are able to have electricity to do their studies and electives such as art, culinary disciplines, photography and athletics, brings a hope not seen before to this region. These young adults are graduating from there and literally changing their world. Talk about far-reaching sustainability!

Touring the intake and channel at a Hydrobox plant in Kenya

Please don’t get me wrong. We need charity. Organizations like Agahozo Shalom need donors. It’s a beautiful thing. But I would dare say that investing in opportunities of impact that bring infrastructure reliability to regions like these are life changing for all involved. I’ve heard about it with our own investments, and now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Not at all what I expected… and I’m the better for it.

— Shelly Shafer

Related News