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Meet the woman helping light up Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp

Lucy, one of Kakuma Refugee Camp's only women solar technicians, poses in front of solar panels she helped install at the camp. Photo: Jacky Habib

Lucy, one of Kakuma Refugee Camp's only women solar technicians, poses in front of solar panels she helped install at the camp. Photo: Jacky Habib

In Southwestern Kenya, in the sweltering mid-day heat of 98°F, Lucy Nyanga Joseph is standing on the rooftop of a school installing solar panels. The 22-year-old technician dons a bright orange vest with neon yellow reflectors.

She reaches into her vest pockets to retrieve various tools — a screwdriver, pliers, measuring tape, and a bracket. Lucy is focused on the task at hand, only stopping occasionally to discuss the plan with her colleagues, Nathan Omondi and Joseph Parpaai, who are also electrical and solar technicians supporting the installation.

“This work makes me confident. It makes me happy,” Lucy says, smiling.

She is one of the only women solar technicians in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, which together with the nearby Kalobeyei settlement hosts 249,000 refugees from 24 nationalities. Like Lucy, some of these refugees have fled conflict, insecurity, disasters, or threats of persecution; others were born in the camp.

Lucy, center, speaks with electrical and solar technician Joseph Parpaai, left, and electrician Nathan Omondi, right, at Harmonic System's office in Kakuma Refugee Camp, where Lucy received training. Photo: Jacky Habib.

Lucy, who grew up in South Sudan, fled the country in late 2019. After traveling by road for two days, she arrived at Kakuma Refugee Camp where her sister, nieces, and nephews were living.

In 2022, when Lucy heard of an opportunity to join a six-month course to become a solar technician, she was immediately intrigued. As a child, she always dreamed of being an engineer. She enrolled in the course, and initially was skeptical about how she would perform.

“When I started, I thought I wouldn’t learn anything, but then I realized it was very easy because what you see [the trainers teaching you] is what you do [on the job],” Lucy says.

Out of ten students in the course, Lucy was one of three participating women. Following completion, she was the only woman to take up the work.


Despite being told by others that solar panel installation is “not women’s work,” Lucy champions this unconventional work to other women.

She tells other women: “I decided with my confidence and courage to [become a technician] and work together with men.If you’re really interested and courageous, you can do what a man can do.”

So far, Lucy has convinced nearly 20 friends at the refugee camp to enroll in similar courses in male-dominated fields.

“Their husbands try to stop them and say: Who will cook? Who will take care of the children?”

“I tell the women: do not let a man destroy your future.”

She explains that the responsibility to provide food for children typically falls on women. If women can secure jobs for themselves, Lucy reasons they will be in a better position to provide for their children.

As a single mother, she speaks from experience. A few short months after arriving at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Lucy’s sister died. Lucy was left as the sole provider for five nieces and nephews, ages six to eighteen, in addition to Lucy’s two-year-old.

“It is not easy to take care of people. It is not easy to be a single mother, but if you have a job, it can be easy because money talks,” Lucy says. “Kids ask for food, clothes, shoes, and medicine — and when your kids ask, you can use your money to provide for them.”

Lucy checks the electrical wiring system at Harmonic System, where she participated in a six-month training. Photo: Jacky Habib.

Previously, Lucy had no options but to rely solely on aid distributed by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which she says amounts to 1,500 Kenyan shillings (roughly $11.75) per month. In her experience, this has only covered a fraction of her monthly expenses for food and other essentials. Becoming an electrical and solar engineer, however, helps her earn additionnal income to “push through until the end of the month.”

Joseph Parpaai, the electrical and solar technician who trained Lucy in the six-month course says he has seen demographics changing as more women are joining technical fields.

“There is a negative [bias] toward women,” he says — particularly when people see women technicians or engineers climb poles or operate heavy machinery.

And while society underestimates women’s ability to perform in male-dominated fields, Joseph says women often don’t share these sentiments.

“Women tend to say, ‘What a man can do, a woman can do better.”

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