Solar power lights up learners’ future

ANASTASIA—It is not easy

It may take forever for areas spanning south east of Misuku Hills in Chitipa East to be connected to the national electricity grid.

The hilly terrain inhibits of development in the location.

Those driving there have to park their vehicles outside a nearby forest, Mughese, to avoid the steep slopes, which are often slippery during the rainy season.


The winding and narrow road itself makes driving a risky venture.

But there is hope for this community forked between undulating hills, with streams snaking across villages and crop fields.

At Namutegha Community Day Secondary School (CDSS), with an enrolment of 168 and located some 20 kilometres east of Misuku Trading Centre, learners are defying odds to work hard in class even in the absence of electricity from the national grid.


They use candles, paraffin lamps and small solar-powered torches to study at night. More is coming.

“It is not easy, though. These lighting tools need us to spend money constantly. We are from poor families,” says Anastasia Msukwa, a learner at the CDSS.

At the school, study time is currently being divided into three schedules because of inadequate lighting materials.

“The solar torches easily run out of power. When sunlight is not enough, we are assured of not having learners studying on the corresponding night,” the school’s head teacher Boniface Ng’ambi says.

An assessment conducted under Chitipa Restoration Project found another CDSS, Njelengwa, in the border district grappling with lighting challenges, which significantly limit the time learners study.

The project’s team leader Fidelis Kambalame says with funding from Peachtree Church, in partnership with African Minigrids, they embarked on solar initiatives for the two schools to energise learners’ resolve.

“Our vision is to transform communities in Chitipa by ensuring young people have access to tools with which they can develop their lives.

“The moment we empower and support young people in their education endeavours, they will be able to transform their communities,” Kambalame says.

The equipment for lighting the two schools, according to Kambalame, cost an estimated K48 million.

Stakeholders, including Member of Parliament for Chitipa East, Kezzie Msukwa, facilitated the importation of the equipment duty free from South Africa.

A Malawian company BNG Electrical Contractor installed the apparatus at the two schools. BNG managing director Beston Gama says the 605-kilowatt system can supply power to all teachers’ houses, classrooms and hostels at the two schools.

The venture is expected to keep more learners in school apart from improving their performance as they study using clean and sustainable lighting.

“This is a centralised solar system, which means power will be being generated from one point and distributed to other areas,” Gama says.

It will also move the schools away from kerosene lamps, which produce hazardous gases.

The United States’ National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) asserts that exposure to kerosene combustion has several health risks.

NIEHS states that epidemiological studies have linked kerosene use to impaired lung function, asthma, cancer and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

“Combustion products generated by many kerosene-burning devices include considerable amounts of fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitric oxides, sulphur dioxide, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—compounds that can cause a range of adverse health effects including respiratory ailments, cancer and death,” the institute says.

Anastasia and her colleagues hope they have eschewed these dangers early enough even though they look back to the days of use of kerosene lamps with apprehension.

At Njelengwa CDSS, the restoration project has also assisted in constructing a 64-bed girls’ hostel, drilling a borehole and installing a solar-powered submersible pump.

Vice chairperson of Namutegha CDSS Parents Teachers Association, Osman Fumbo, is confident that the solar electricity at the remote institution will motivate learners to put more efforts in their studies.

“We hope the learners will perform wonders in their next examinations. The solar-powered electricity has coincided with the designation of the school as a Maneb examination centre,” Fumbo says.

A 2019-20 survey by the Ministry of Education found that about 66 percent of secondary schools in the country are connected to Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi power lines; 15 percent use solar energy; one percent use fuel-powered generators; while 18 percent are not connected to any form of electricity.

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