The guard who reinvented himself as a shoemaker

Thanks to a project supported by EDP’s A2E Fund, Bigirimana Emmanuel was able to reinvent himself in Rwanda by making new, more affordable shoes for refugees.

This is a story about overcoming obstacles, in which energy played a crucial role. In 2016, a security guard by the name of Bigirimana Emmanuel fled political conflict in the world’s poorest country, Burundi. His aim was to seek better living conditions but, he ended up in the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda. When he got there, he couldn’t find a job or any other occupation. But he didn’t give up. “One of my neighbors was a shoemaker and was moving to Kigali because of a job opportunity. I realized that I could learn to do his job. I started learning in 2018 and after three months, I was repairing shoes to a good standard,” he recalls. 

Despite all the setbacks, like not having enough capital to buy raw materials to make new shoes and the lack of electricity in the camp, Bigirimana persevered. He started to travel to communities where there was electricity, but the truth was that spending time traveling from his workshop to the other community to do small repair jobs that needed electricity wasn’t going to be feasible. 

The solution came through OffGridBox, a project supported by EDP’s Access to Energy (A2E) Fund that provides electricity to refugee camps. “I realized it was a good opportunity. I approached them and they immediately allowed me to start working in the ‘Box,’ which is close to the biggest market in the refugee camp. It was an opportunity that brought me closer to my customers and I didn’t have to waste time traveling to other communities for electricity.” 

The OffGridBox is a mobile and modular unit that supplies energy (through solar panels that are installed on the roof) and potable water (when integrated with a water purification system). It is also directly connected to nearby businesses to supply energy and serves as a station for regular mobile phone charging and rental of solar kits (consisting of light bulbs and a battery). 

In Rwanda, six OffGridBoxes were installed in four refugee camps and a host community, allowing 12 local businesses to be connected to energy; distributing 900 solar kits and charging around 10,000 mobile phones each month. 

Now, about two years after starting to work with OffGridBox, Bigirimana Emmanuel makes new shoes that are much more affordable for refugees, since the cost of doing business has decreased. “Before I started working with this system, I had a capital of RWF 180,000 (approximately €160). Now, I have RWF 450,000 [€400]. Making new shoes is very profitable.” 

The Burundian guard who reinvented himself as a shoemaker in Mahama now just wants electricity to transform more lives.


A2E Fund

In 2018, EDP launched the A2E Fund to support renewable energy projects that promote the environmental, social and economic development of rural communities in developing countries.

The A2E Fund focuses on five major sectors to which energy makes a crucial contribution: education, health, water, community and businesses.

With 5 editions underway, EDP received over 730 applications and selected 38 projects in Mozambique, Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola and Rwanda, selected according to criteria such as social impact, partnerships, sustainability, number of beneficiaries and expansion potential.

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