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Lighting up Lives in Bondo

“This business couldn’t be profitable if there was no electricity,” Fabiyano Mawiea tells me. “I’d have to close the shop at 5pm because it would get dark and no-one would come here. Because of electricity I have lights and there are lights outside the shop too. I can stay open as late as 10pm and I still have customers.”

 Ruth Clowes

Article: Ruth Clowes, Copywriter working for Practical Action, ruthclowes.co.uk
Photos: Patrick Meinhardt, www.patrickmeinhardt.com

Practical Action is the international development organisation that kick-started the micro-hydro scheme in the Bondo region. I visited the area to talk with the experts at MEGA and to see for myself the difference that micro-hydro electricity has made to the communities here.

Light for Businesses

Fabiano serves customers in his grocery shop
Fabiano serves customers in his grocery shop

“This business couldn’t be profitable if there was no electricity,” Fabiyano Mawiea tells me. “I’d have to close the shop at 5pm because it would get dark and no-one would come here. Because of electricity I have lights and there are lights outside the shop too. I can stay open as late as 10pm and I still have customers.”

Fabiyano is in his 30s and owns a small grocery shop in the village of Kaponda. The shop is in a good position in the middle of the village. His house is right next door – he lives there with his wife and five children. The shop only exists because of electricity – it would never have been profitable before.

We met Fabiyano in the early afternoon, when the shop was fairly quiet. When we went back there after dark, it became clear that the grocery shop really was the heart of the village’s social life. There were around 30 adults and children gathered around in the light given out by the shop and other nearby street lights. Music was playing and there was a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere. In the centre of it all was Fabiyano’s shop, with no shortage of customers buying snacks and drinks. His mother and two of his sons had joined him to help serve the customers.

The Importance of Education

It’s not only businesses that have been given a new lease of life. Children are benefitting from the new electricity too, as Fabiyano explains:

“My children go to Likole Primary School. It also has got electricity this year and they are happier and learning better because of it. When my children get home from school they are now able to study because we have light.”

Children’s education and attendance has improved since the school has electricity
Children’s education and attendance has improved since the school has electricity

Lighting up the Night

Visiting Fabiyano’s shop after dark made it clear how much difference light has made to this village. Before, people would have gone to bed shortly after nightfall (6pm). If they’d had urgent work to do, perhaps they would have used a candle or smelly, expensive kerosene lamp to eke out a few hours of dim light. Socialising wasn’t an option – for one thing, going out after dark isn’t considered safe.

But here in Kaponda, by the light of bright electric bulbs, women and their children socialise together. The children play with their friends and run about. The women chat together and catch up on gossip. These simple pleasures were impossible just a few months ago.

At night, Fabiyano’s shop is a social hub for his village
At night, Fabiyano’s shop is a social hub for his village

Inspiring the future

It was inspiring to see the difference that Practical Action, MEGA, and our partners have made to this community. Practical Action is about to start a new micro-hydro project near Mzuzu, in the north of Malawi. Experiencing first-hand the way that electricity can transform lives has made me and colleagues even more excited about our future work in the country.

 

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