Thato Kgatlhanye’s Amazing Invention Helps Disadvantaged Kids Of South Africa Get An Education

Posted: March 8, 2019

The solar powered schoolbag invented by Thato Kgatlhanye is giving dignity to school children of South Africa, and helping them study better.

Thato Kgatlhanye attributes her “do good” attitude to her mother. “My mom cares about people like you wouldn’t imagine… so I grew up in an environment where I was always conscious of actually caring for other people and having a sense of empathy,” she says.

Which is why when she had to do a university project, she decided on doing something that would help people. She had noticed that many children in her community used plastic bags to carry their books to school. She decided to “upcycle” these bags and make them durable, environmentally friendly and waterproof. But didn’t want to stop there.

A conversation with her mother gave her the next big idea. Her mother told her how she used to study in her childhood using candles, which were not long lasting and would die mid-week. Also, the candles were fire hazards.

This gave her the idea of making the bags solar powered. She fitted the bags with a retro-reflective material and a solar panel. This panel charges when the child walks to and from school during the day, and then at night, the child can use it to study. And as this video shows, it is having a real impact on their studies.

Not only is the bag helping children, but is also helping women by employing them in the factory. As one woman says in the same video, “Before getting a job, it was very difficult, especially as a woman with children. But now that I am working here, at least my children can eat because I am able to put something on the table. They are able to go to school like other children. So even I can shine.”

Because the bags are made by recycling plastic, the social and environmental impact are increased.

Thato’s work has earned the attention of Bill Gates, who tweeted about her and met her. When asked about that experience in this interview, she says, “What I have learnt is to do to meaningful work. You don’t do it for the applause. You actually do it from a place of purpose…we are just in a space where when you are celebrated by the billionaires of the world, it is an even better experience if you know you’ve been doing meaningful work.”

She has been awarded, “Innovator of the Year” by Forbes Women Africa and the recipient of the Elle Magazine Impact award laureate across 6 continents. In 2016 she became the youngest business woman, at age 23, to appear on the cover of Forbes Women Africa.

South Africa still isn’t able to completely shrug off the evils of apartheid, and even now education for black people is compromised. Investments are made in areas that already have resources, rather than in areas that really need them. While the education system itself is considered one of the worst in the world, and needs a complete overhaul, the fact that many parents simply cannot afford basic school supplies, clothes, etc is often overlooked. It is on such a dismal picture that Thato Kgatlhanye’s solar powered school bags shine as a ray of hope.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Rema Rajeswari IPS here.

Image source: YouTube

Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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