Zayed energy grant transforms African village
Funds from winning last year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize have helped Dikirani Thaulo turn his hometown into a centre for solar energy development and education.
The first group of students are now ready to graduate from Mr Thaulo’s course after finishing their summer classes.
The Malawian, who won a US$100,000 (Dh367,240) grant for his proposal to develop a technical institute focused on sustainability, said that the money had transformed Nkhata Bay, a village of about 15,000 people on Lake Malawi .
“It is clear when you walk around the area you can see people’s lives changed – from the huts to the people doing business, now they have light,” Mr Thaulo said.
With no access to a municipal power grid, schools previously held classes in poorly lit, badly ventilated conditions.
Mr Thaulo has since developed a curriculum and classes for secondary schools and technical colleges in the area focused on solar energy.
The project, which is bringing more solar-powered benefits to the local community, has programmes for two schools in Nkhata Bay – the Zayed Solar Academy and the Zayed Energy and Ecology Centre.
The academy trains students as solar engineers, while the centre demonstrates practical applications for solar energy.
About 103 students registered for the academy’s first installation course last summer. The first batch of students has now completed the courses and the academy is preparing their graduation ceremony, Mr Thaulo said.
It also provides learning and multimedia resources for the Maula and Sanga schools in a library, an e-learning centre and science labs.
“We have trained them and they can now work in the town and abroad, it is really making a difference.”
In addition to the installation course, the centre offers classes in masonry, carpentry and welding.
“The idea is to get students ready for jobs in the field. We want them to have a good understanding of everything involved in solar energy and installing panels,” Mr Thaulo said.
The centre’s construction, itself, is an opportunity for on-the-job training. Programme organisers hope such courses will help address the growing problem of high youth unemployment.
“Before, everyone had to use kerosene gas tanks for light,” Mr Thaulo said. “This reduces productivity and they are harmful chemicals. It is dangerous.
“Now we have more of our students installing solar panels so that they have light. They can even charge their electronic devices, which is very important to learning.”
Only 10 per cent of Malawi’s population has access to electricity. In rural areas, the availability is often less than 1 per cent.