By Magdalene Mukami and Andrew Wasike
LILONGWE, Malawi (AA) – In the power-starved Malawi – a landlocked country in southeastern Africa – solar energy is transforming lives of people.
A trip to India by few village women have brought wonders to the countryside.
Nicknamed “solar mamas”, women from Chimwala village, bordering Lake Malawai – the 9th largest lake in the world – have started a rural electrification project that lights up eight villages, outside the capital Lilongwe.
These women were trained as solar engineers in India. Their journey, from ordinary village women to engineers, was funded by a non-governmental organization knows as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
The land in Chimwala is flat and green. The landscape is covered with crops as far as the eyes can see.
Malawi is an impoverished nation, with 53% of its population (18.62 million) living below the poverty line. Just 10 % of the country is connected to an energy grid. And even those fortunate enough having electricity connections, there is heavy load shedding schedules.
The power is available 6-10 hours, and sometimes it blinks and outage can last up to three days.
The government promise to connect schools, hospitals and households to the energy grid, has remained a pipedream.
In December 2018 a parliamentary sitting was postponed due to blackout. Small businesses rely on costly generators.
Being a landlocked country, fuel is also costly. There is no end to the woes in hospitals, where life-saving equipment requires round the clock power supply.
A ray of hope has emerged in Chimwala village, where eight village women have taken up the challenge to illuminate the countryside. At first glance, they look like ordinary farmers, but are in fact solar engineers, trained in India.
With just primary school backgrounds, these women are skilled in running small solar plants.
At Chimwala Village, the sun is just about to set, Jane Azibo, a woman walking barefooted, is watering her farm using solar power. Earlier, she had to walk over 5 kilometers to fetch water as she could afford to dig a bore well.
“Now the water finds me here at my farm,” she said, while pointing towards a network of pipes that links to many farms. “We pump water from the ground using solar-driven motors. We water our farms twice a day and store excess in tanks,” Azibo told Anadolu Agency.
The eight solar mamas have solved one of Malawi’s biggest problem, at the community level. The village school is igniting with lights. Children are now able to attend early morning and evening classes, thanks to solar-powered lamps that have been installed in their classes.
Explaining the transformation, Dines Msampha says that they have received most of the equipment from the NGO and companies from across the world.
“We were using firewood for cooking. We were concerned because we were destroying many trees at an alarming rate. Now use solar power for cooking at home, to light up the school and to water our farms.”
Solar energy has not only reduced the indoor air pollution but has given impetus to new trades like running internet cafes, barber shops and others.
Msampha said that they are operating milling machines also using solar power, to make flour from cereals such as maize, millet, sorghum and wheat. The women, who man solar-powered devices are also earning money, which they use to service the devices.
The government has also acknowledged their contribution. The Malawi Primary Education Advisor Chrissy Bondo told Anadolu Agency that the government is aware of the importance of clean renewable energy.
“We have evening classes, thanks to the solar mamas, which are complementing government efforts,” Bondo said. He said the government was planning to connect all schools to the national grid.
“Children are now able to hold iPads and learn things, we never had the chance to learn. Instructions are coming from the teachers on the iPads and it is exciting for students.”
George Nyangu Chamwala, the area chief believed that 24/7 electricity has also improved security in the area.
According to the 2019 World Bank report, Malawi has abundant untapped solar potential, with an average of 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. But the country had one of the lowest electricity access in the world.