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Women from four Malawi villages bring home solar power, and a prestigious award

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Seven semi-literate women from four isolated villages in Malawi who spent six months in India learning to be barefoot solar engineers have brought solar electricity to their home villages and also brought home Africa’s premier award for rural electrification, reports blogger Clement Nyiranda.

The Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) chose the women from Chimonjo and Chitala villages in Salima district; Kaphuka village in Dedza district; and Makunganya village in Zomba district, to attend Barefoot College in India, where they learned how to install, fabricate and maintain solar home lighting in their villages.

In March 2010, their work was honoured with the Best Rural Electrification Project Award in the Africa Energy Awards event held in Sandton, South Africa.

Many people in Malawi rely on home-made koloboyi paraffin lamps for lighting, but paraffin is far more expensive than electricity, hazardous to peoples’ health and causes many fires. Now their villages no longer have to rely on paraffin lamps for light.

After returning from India, the women installed 316 standalone household solar energy systems in homes in the four villages, helped create a solar-powered rural electronic workshop in each of the four villages, and established village based funds in each village to maintain the solar energy systems.

Community members pay for the service by contributing an equivalent of US1.50 per month – less than they used to spend on paraffin. This money , which supports the women solar engineers as part of their monthly allowances and pays for procuring maintenance equipment and managing the workshops. This is less than the villagers used to spend on paraffin.

Solar electricity has greatly improved life in the villages, and made it possible for schoolchildren to study and do their homework even at night. Availability of solar electricity has also enabled the households to save money which they used to spend on buying other sources of lighting such as paraffin and candles.

CCODE Director Siku Nkhoma says the idea was to make communities, and especially women, to be leaders in project implementation at the community level and ensure sustainability as the skills will remain available in the community beyond the project’s life span. She says women were selected as the community believed that once trained, women will remain in the village while men are most likely to migrate into the city.

Not only has the project shown the capacities of women as community leaders, but it has inspired a demand for solar energy from neighbouring villages.

Clement Nthambazale Nyirenda has been blogging about Malawi for the past four years. He is currently in Japan. The pictures are used with his permission. You can find his stories about the project here, and his May 17 blog about the award here.




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