Generation of electricity ignites hope for a better education among rural pupils
“When I complete my education, I am going to be a lawyer”. These words are expressed with such passion and conviction that one has no choice but to believe that eleven-year-old Madeline Bofu will become a lawyer one day. Madeline is a pupil at Chipendeke Primary School, about 60 kilometres South of Mutare, Zimbabwe’s fourth largest city. The school has a total enrolment of 429 pupils, whose parents are mostly communal and subsistence farmers. Madeline needs to complete her primary and secondary education with flying colours, short of which she will not be admitted at any local university and she knows that she needs to be studying a lot. She has to continuously be among the top three of her class a feat she has managed to maintain easily for most of her six years at school. “For me to become a lawyer, I need to study harder and read more”, she says.
|“I am determined to become a lawyer”, Madeline seems to be pondering, standing in her grade six classroom|
The main hurdle she has to overcome is lack of adequate time for studying. She cannot study at home at night because her parents, who are subsistence farmers, are unable to afford candles or paraffin for her studies. Each candle gives 3 hours of continuous lighting and with each candle costing $2, her family would require at least $6 per week for her studies alone, a cost which they are already finding hard to meet, and as a result Madeline has ended up having less time for studying. She cannot study adequately during the day as she has to attend to household chores after school, such as washing dishes and working in the field.
However, Madeline may still have a chance for her dreams to come true. This follows the establishment of a micro hydro scheme in the community, by Practical Action, with funding from the European Union under the Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa project. The Chipendeke micro hydro scheme is one of the 15 micro hydro schemes which are expected to benefit 45 000 households in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe between 2008-2012. The micro hydro scheme technology, was selected as an alternative energy source for communities in fragile mountainous ecosystems, whose access to modern energy services is low and chances for these communities of being reached by the national grid in the near future are distant . With its mountainous terrain and abundant perennial water sources, the Chipendeke Community also possess the physical features necessary for the establishment of a micro hydro scheme.
With the prospect of the introduction of electricity in the area through the micro hydro system, Madeline feels a bit closer to her dreams. “Now that we will be having electricity in the village soon, we will have lights at our house and I will be able to study more ”, Madeline says, and this optimism is also shared by the other members in the community.
“We know that having electricity will not solve all our problems here at the school, but it will certainly improve a lot of things”, says Misheck Mukahanana, the deputy headmaster at Chipendeke Primary School. Chipendeke Primary School, like most of the schools in the district has borne the brunt of the economic hardships which have reigned in Zimbabwe over the last eight years. For example the Grade Seven results, that is the final external examinations which pupils at primary level sit for before they proceed to secondary school, have been steadily plummeting over the past three years, with a 12% pass rate in 2007, 8% in 2008 during the peak years of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, and continued to decline in 2009, to 2%. With the number of people living below the datum line standing at 1.4 million in Zimbabwe, as of August 2010, (The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe), most community members have found it difficult to continue prioritising the costs associated with education and instead opted to focus on the provision of food. According to Mukahanana, most pupils do not have school stationery such exercise books, writing pens and textbooks and this has contributed towards the low grades.
Naboth Mucherera, one of the small scale farmers in Chipendeke, whose children also attend Chipendeke Primary School anticipates that the introduction of electricity will give more options in farming and will enable the refrigeration of produce, which will help him to generate more income and enable him to give more support towards the education of his two children. “With electricity I will be able to store my crops easily and earn more profit which will help me to support my family”, he says. Currently at the school, only around 5% of school children attend school with textbooks, pens and exercise books.
Mukahanana also anticipates that the introduction of electricity in the area will contribute towards the attraction and retention of qualified teachers. “Teachers will also find it more meaningful to buy televisions and radios, refrigerate their food, which will make their social environment bearable and work more enjoyable, despite the current low salaries”, he says. He adds that with electricity available, it would be possible for the school to approach different sponsors for equipment such as computers, laboratories and home economics sets, which would give the pupils more enlightenment and focus. “We generally live in a closed society now and we think that our pupils will be encouraged to do more when they watch television and see what other pupils are doing, how people live differently in other parts of the country and the world”, he says.
Coupled with this is the little economic activities in the area, which has deflated the pupils’ will to complete their education. “Most pupils lose the desire to study hard when they see most of their elder siblings just loitering at the township after completing their primary or secondary education because there are no economic activities to absorb them”, says Mukahana. To date, less than half of pupils from Chipendeke community have completed secondary education at Chitora Secondary School , which is the only secondary school in the area and of these, only a handful have either proceeded to college or are engaged productively. The community anticipates that the introduction of electricity in the area will unlock small investments which will stimulate economic activities in the area, and which will absorb the school leavers. “We know
that its difficult these days for our children to get vacancies at colleges, so if we have some small activities which generate money, maybe our children will be motivated to study,” says
Mucherera. Prospects for increased economic activities in the area appear high, with virtually all commercial stands at the Chipendeke Business Centre purchased, as soon as preparations for the establishment of the micro hydro scheme commenced.
Practical Action has adopted a community based approach in the implementation of the project, where community members are equipped with the skills of constructing, operating and managing the micro hydro scheme. The project manager Eng Fungai Matahwa explains that with this approach participation in the project will be driven by people’s passion to improve their lives. “Because of this enthusiasm and the fact that the communities are providing all local materials, such as sand, stones, timber, labour and management, communities will feel genuine ownership of their micro hydro scheme, which will ensure that it lasts longer”, he says. The capacity building efforts are also expected to provide adequate skills for the community to sustainably manage and maintain the scheme.
|The switch- on of the scheme’s powerhouse as part of the testing process of the scheme’s electrical works|
Written by Varaidzo Dongozi