Hilaria Paschal is a basket weaver and farmer who lives in a rural town in Northern Tanzania. She was one of Solar Sister’s first entrepreneurs. Read about her journey.

Hilaria is a talented weaving artist, producing colourful woven baskets and jewelry. She also runs a small business, marketing and selling her own wares and those made by her women’s group.

She became a clean energy entrepreneur in 2013, after hearing about Solar Sister through our partners African Wildlife Foundation.

I decided to become an entrepreneur because there is no electricity in this area or in neighboring villages. I learned about Solar Sister and then got training from them. And my husband helped me start with some capital.

Hilaria tests out a Sunking Pro solar light.

As with many of our entrepreneurs, Hilaria needed to figure out for herself whether this new solar thing was a good idea, so she bought a light for herself to test it out. She was impressed and arranged with her husband to put in the capital needed to kickstart a clean energy business with Solar Sister.

Hilaria started out by buying a dozen solar lights, a mix of small portable lights and the larger phone charging lights. In her first month, she sold 25 products, and hasn’t looked back! To date Hilaria has sold almost 400 products, reaching over 2,000 people with affordable and safe ways to cook and power their lives.

In 2015, Hilaria organized her fellow basketweavers into a Sisterhood group called Mshikamano (meaning solidarity in Swahili), so more women could learn about solar technology, business skills and the Solar Sister opportunity. Basilia is a fellow basketweaver and Solar Sister entrepreneur appreciates how the impact of clean energy access in their communities reflects on the women entrepreneurs themselves.

The community prays for us because we have brought a different lifestyle to their homes.     — Basilia

Hilaria is still up against the challenges of doing business in a very challenging environment. She lives in a rural community a stone’s throw from the edge of Tarangire, one of Tanzania’s famous wildlife parks. Despite the huge amount of foreign tourism here, many of the villages in this region are still waiting for power, and for decent roads and good transport options. All of this impacts on running a sustainable small business. This is also one reason why getting clean energy to last-mile communities is so difficult.

Hilaria chats with a customer.

And yet, local women entrepreneurs like Hilaria are pushing forward, making it happen. Her success is due in part to her energy and creativity, and also due to her intimate knowledge of local people and their energy needs.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes life intervenes. In 2016, Hilaria’s biggest challenge was caring for her sick child. It took an emotional toll and also took up her time and income, forcing her to dip into her savings and business capital. It was a set back for her businesses,  but she brought her characteristic resilience and some wisdom from Solar Sister’s ongoing coaching.

Solar Sister training helped me know that in business there are times for growth and times for challenges. There are times that you fail. I would like to tell my fellow entrepreneurs, first of all take risks. They should try and they will succeed.

In June 2017, Hilaria’s hard work was recognized by the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA), who awarded her Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. She travelled to New York to accept her €1,000 prize and speak at the 2017 Sustainable Energy for All Forum.

Hilaria accepts her award from ENERGIA’s Sheila Oparaocha. ©AdamSchultz

Hilaria decided to invest a little of her prize money in her businesses and put the bulk of it towards her daughters’ education. Theresia, 18 years old, is studying accounting and 15-year-old Gladness is a secondary school student. For Hilaria, educating her daughters is one of her most important goals: “If I had studied I would have had so many opportunities. I went to primary school only. I don’t want my children to be like me.”

Watch Hilaria’s story here

Hilaria was one of the earliest Solar Sister entrepreneurs in Tanzania. She is a wonderful example of a strong woman who lives Solar Sister’s values. She has not only improved her and her family’s life, but is also a leader making sure other women in her area benefit from the ripple effect of Solar Sister’s green business opportunity. — Neha Misra

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