Indeed, 2009 saw the first of many macrosolar installations. By installing solar systems in schools we create better learning conditions by providing safe and dependable lighting.

Former Head of Fundraising, Ruth Mantle, recounts her experience of Igoda Primary School’s installation below:

During my trip to the region, the first SolarAid Tanzania solar system was installed on the Igoda Primary School. The headmaster led a lighting ceremony with singing, dancing and speeches by all the senior members of the community.

The school is in a remote region of the Tanzanian highlands. Sitting at 2,000 feet above sea level, it serves a rural community with over 500 children attending daily. Sadly, many of these children have been touched by HIV and AIDS. The school has over 200 children who have either lost one or both parents. Being far away from the grid, the school had no access to electricity.

Solar for children

The 150 watt system was installed on the roof by two contractors from a Tanzania solar company. The system will provide power for 13 lights spread across the classrooms and the Headmasters Office. The light will be used by the children to do their homework after school and for teachers to do their work.
Fig 1: Some of the children of the Igoda Primary School
With the support of a SolarAid volunteer, the school has developed an ambitious income-generating strategy. Before the solar system, the 6,000 mobile phone owners in the area walked 30 minutes or more to charge their mobile phone. When not used for lighting, the system will be able to charge 15 mobile phones per day. Each charge will earn the school 500Ksh (25p). This means that soon they will soon start generating income to save for maintenance.

A solar future

Already the community chairman and headmaster know that they want a larger solar system and one that can provide light for the houses of the teachers. We talked about how this could be possible with the money generated from charging mobile phones.
A a community centre is being built next to the school, where all local meetings and elections will take place. Perhaps they too will look to solar, once they see how the power of the sun can have such a positive impact.

During the opening ceremony at the school, the teachers and children sang a song "asante" meaning thank you.

Cultural Value

Fig 2: Village scene where solar power provides electricity needs. (Reproduced with artists permission)
The impact of macrosolar in Tanzania is apparent not only with economic and quantitative success but also by its assimilation into the local community. A local Tinga Tinga (Tanzanian style) artist has produced a village scene where solar power provides the village's electricity needs.

Have a close look at this wonderful and intricate painting. Among traditional village activities you can see people using microsolar products to play their radios, macrosolar panels servicing a clinic and school, a solar-powered water pump and local business people using solar to make money by charging mobile phones. It's great to see what solar can do for a village.

Bringing the World together

SolarAid volunteers have been implementing SolarAid’s strategy and witnessing first hand the enormous impact that solar energy is having on the everyday lives of Tanzanians. One of our volunteers discusses how macrosolar technology is helping school children:

The children I recently met on the installation trip around Iringa have a strong desire for growth and improvement in their quality of life.

Curious about the Western way of life, they are excited to learn about modern communication and technology, which they admire. They feel that to be better integrated into the local community and the world at large they need access to lighting and communication.

The ability to read at night, listen to a radio or watch television (something which has been available to the developed world for almost a century) will allow them to expand their horizons. Communication with friends and relatives through the use of mobile phones will enable their integration with the rest of the world. But all means for growth depend on technologies that of course require electricity.

While lifting a solar panel up onto the roof of a school, Dennis asked me: "Do you think we are making a difference for this country and Africa by bringing solar energy to these schools in remote villages?"

As the sun shone onto the panel, I realised that ironically the wheels of a future renewable energy economy may be best started in developing countries through humanitarian effort. Bringing renewable energy sources first to school children in poor countries is a basic expression of the highest humanitarian principle to help those in need. Development of renewable energy sources could be one of the efforts that bring the world together rather than dividing it.

The answer to Dennis's question came resoundingly when we officially handed the system over to the school's headmaster in front of the student assembly. The voice of jubilation from hundreds of students was a perfect expression of the gratitude for the gift of solar and more than that, for the opportunity to become more connected with the rest of humanity.

Solarising schools to prevent further tragedies

Fig 3: The tragic mass grave for the 12 young students of Idodi Secondary School who perished in the fire 22 August

Traditionally schools and homes in Tanzania have used candles, fire places and kerosene lamps as a source of light. Efficient solar energy not only eliminates the threat of toxic emissions but also the danger of fire. Idodi Secondary School was victim to this threat in August 2009 when a young student at Idodi was up late studying in her dormitory. The candle by her bedside - her only available light - was accidentally knocked over, setting the mattress alight and spreading quickly through the entire dormitory block, killing 12 young girls and injuring 20 others.

Since Idodi, it has become apparent that this kind of incident is all too common in Africa. So the team are looking at different approaches to strategies for school dormitories in Tanzania. Our challenge now is ensuring we prevent future incidents like this one.

However, when there are hundreds of schools in rural Tanzania with no power, after sundown (around 6pm everyday) thousands of school children are left with no choice but to resort to candles if they wish to continue studying after the school day. And as long as candles are used, there will always be a high risk of burns or, worse, building-wide fires like the one at Idodi.

One of SolarAid's aims is to increase access to safe, clean light in schools to deliver improved education standards. Until now, the focus has been on lighting the classrooms and school offices. But we're now working with Headmaster - Mr Raymond Mlasu - to design a system for the new dormitory block at Idodi.

Two options so far are a fixed lighting system plus portable microsolar products for students to share. Or alternatively, a fixed system with three smaller study lights fixed in the corners of the dormitory. Either way, we will strive to find an appropriate lighting solution for the students at Idodi and beyond, so that after-dark study is made safe - something that we take for granted in the west.

In October, the SolarAid office in Dar es Salaam installed its very own macrosolar product. The new demo system, which Dave Fryer (our macrosolar Volunteer) kindly did a great job of designing and wiring, can be seen below:

Fig 4: The SolarAid Tanzania team outside the office at Dar Es Salaam, with the new solar system that is now powering the office

Fig 5: Ready to switch to solar power, here in the SolarAid ofice in Dar El Salaam

December was a particularly eventful month for macrosolar volunteer David and macrosolar coordinator Stephen as they discussed with operations manager Mason their upcoming installation trip across rural Tanzania. The first leg of their story is described below:
It's early Saturday morning. We’ve finished packing and are about to leave for 16 days of school surveys, solar installations and dirt roads. It's a race against time, a race against the rainy season and a race against the schools' Christmas holiday. Mason looks at the map one last time before we set off, "wooooh, now that is one ambitious plan, good luck guys."

Fig 6: A map showing the upcoming installations on schools across rural Tanzania
As each day rolls into the next we cover hundreds of miles of dirt road, but the enthusiasm, the hope and the pleading of elated teachers at the sight of a SolarAid vehicle keep our focus.

Farm 17 is a school located 7km from the nearest town, Nachingwea. As a converted army base Farm 17 has had to endure tough times since forces left and took the underground water pipes with them. Money and food are tight here. Dedicated teenage boys now cycle back and forth 100km or more to bore holes and rivers, holding large plastic oil drums to collect water. Food is scarce and most is gathered from the local mango farm.

With the rainy season upon us the adverse effects will cause many mud built houses to collapse. The saving grace is that in three to six weeks they will be able to harvest crops again.

2010 looks set to be an even better year for SolarAid in Tanzania as we expand our macrosolar model and bring renewabable energy to an increasing number of rural Tanzanians.

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