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Malawi: Barefoot Solar Engineers Win Best African Electrification Award

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi, Development, Environment, Science, Technology, Women & Gender

In Malawi, the use of paraffin [1] lamps is very common. However due to costs of the paraffin oil [2], use of such lamps is limited to the most crucial services in the evenings and at night forcing some learners not to study at all and do their homework at night. But the solar project which has electrified Chimonjo village in the central Malawi district of Salima has brought a new dimension to the rural villagers’ lives.

Japan-based Malawian blogger Clement Nthambazale writes about a Solar Engineers Project [3] which has won Africa’s biggest Rural Electrification Award [4]. Understandably, the awards are considered the most important power and electricity awards [5]in Africa.

Children enjoying Solar generated light [6]

Malawian Children enjoying Solar generated light in Salima

In his post, he outlines the advantages of the solar project which has electrified Chimonjo village in the central district of Salima:

The installation of solar electricity in these households has contributed greatly to the improvement of people’s livelihoods. The day for most of these households no longer ends at dusk, but like all of us privileged to have electricity, they now have a choice. School-going children are now able 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 e.g. paraffin, candles. The money thus saved will go a long way in enabling the households to access the various other important needs for their households.

According to Nthambazale [7], there is excitement in the village and the area as this Solar Project will also mean the women become “a source of inspiration for many young Malawian women who are engaging in career paths that traditionally associated with men.”

Mrs Medina from Chimonjo village from Salima district accepted the Award on behalf of her rural Malawi Women Engineers at the Sandton Hotel in South Africa.

What is more interesting about the women is that despite being semi-illiterate they were trained as solar engineers in India for six months [3]:

CCODE selected seven semi-literate women from Chimonjo and Chitala villages in Salima district; Kaphuka village in Dedza district; and Makunganya village in in Zomba district, and sent them to Barefoot College in India, where they were trained as “solar engineers” for six months. They were equipped with skills to install, fabricate and maintain solar home lighting in their villages.

Here are some interesting comments [8]left by his readers:
Nicole Price said,

Clement, I always say that the future of mankind depends entirely on women. In every less developed country, with Self Help Groups, it has been women who have come to the forefront to get out of poverty and misery. Your story is a classic example and I hope that all the other villages too get solar powered lamps soon.

Clement Nyirenda said:

I agree with you. Longing to see more and more women empowerment initiatives.

Glyn said:

Thank you so much for sharing this enlightening story.

And thank to CCODE who saw the talent and promise of these women and what their contribution would mean to their villages.

Siku said:

Thanks Clement for this Blog, i will definately send in more photos on this as the project is developing further. As you know the bigger challenge is with cooking so we will be supporting the same villages to make fuel saving (mbaula)stoves so as to reduce the amount of time women spend looking for firewood and increase the amount of time the same firewood lasts once cooking starts. Once again thanks for the highlight.

Clement Nyirenda said:

Looking forward to more developments and I hope this little publicity will bring in more co-workers.

Ashley said,

This is great to see women across the globe participating in these challenging environments. Especially the fact that they are helping with installation and even continued technical support afterwords. Way to go!

William Hayes said:

I’m wondering:

(1) These solar panels are expensive. Who is paying for them?

(2) And what about windmills? Has someone done a study to determine that solar power is a better source of non-renewable than wind power?

Jenny said:

As to what William above has said, I don’t think wind power is more reliable in those villages since we are talking about Africa here, with more than 10 hours a day of sunshine and heat.

Those women above have done a great job helping themselves and their villages. I can only hope that more will be able to learn the necessary skills to improve their own lives.

William Hayes said:

es, Jenny, I agree with you.

I asked about windmills because of all the publicity being given to William Kamkwamba and his windmill. His story and his success are, so far, largely personal, whereas–as you say–the stories of these women and their successes are larger, affecting villages.

Yet William Kamkwamba gets the lion’s share of the publicity–he is called Malawi’s “genius” in today’s Nyasa Times–and these women get….

I’m still wondering who pays for the solar panels. My son, an electrician, says they are not cheap!

sunu mariam said:

I am really happy to see such women empowerment activities.Let many more come out with initiatives like this…Kiddos to all those who are involved..

Jenny said:

@ William Hayes,

Yeah, I know about “the boy who harnessed the wind”… He is an example of self-help. As these women are. I don’t see any major difference between his achievements and the ones made by these women. Except he got a book written about him. I mean, sure he did a great job for his age (the same age as me). But these women also deserve some publicity.

About the solar panels, I really don’t know, maybe it’s more lucrative for the villages to have a solar panel attached to each house. If each village had only one windmill, less women would have the chance to learn a skill. Or if the windmill broke down, the entire village would be affected. There are a lot of factors to be considered.