|Mr. Soko and his fellow educators at Kazembe Primary School are exasperated with poor standard 8 exam scores. They strive every year to make the most of their vastly limited resources to enlighten young minds in Lifuwu, yet still few students move on to secondary school. This year however, they are getting serious about focusing their students’ efforts. Standard 8 in particular, will receive some special attention in preparation for the crucial year-end Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education exams (PSLCEE) which determine whether or not a student attends secondary school. Standard 8 students will be held to stringent attendance standards and expected to attend extra study sessions in the afternoon. Since Kazembe Primary School cannot afford electricity, all of these efforts must take place during daylight hours.
A major factor limiting Mr. Soko and his team is the sun. An issue not to be discounted, the inability for students to study after dark is a major obstacle for most Malawian students along with many others in the developing world. Globally, 1.4 billion people live without electricity; 590 million of them residing on the African continent 1. In 2009, only 13.9% of the Malawian population had access to electricity 1. For the majority of Malawians, life essentially stops after sunset, so how can their children possibly study?
Reading light is most typically provided by fragile, leaky kerosene lamps, but candles and cheaply made battery-powered torches are also popular alternatives. Traits common to all of these sources are poor quality of light, expense, and hazard. Kerosene ingestion causes most of the childhood poisoning cases in the developing world, as it is commonly stored in discarded soda or water bottles 1.
Kerosene lamps and candles frequently break or overturn, causing burns and devastating house-fires1. Particulates from kerosene smoke cause eye and respiratory irritation; can lead to permanent respiratory, nervous system, and organ damage; and contain carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, and toluene (the latter two potent carcinogens) 1.
Discharged batteries from torches litter the ground in Lifuwu neighborhoods. These will eventually rupture, contaminating the ground and possibly groundwater with toxic heavy metals 1.
Keenly aware of the students’ struggles with these obstacles, and seeking an answer, Mr. Soko had a bright idea. Aware of the availability of affordable solar lamps from a company called Sunny Money, he dreamed of evening study sessions at Kazembe, illuminated by solar light. He shared with us a flyer featuring Sunny Money’s affordable solar lights, and explained his plan.
Sunny Money is a market-based initiative of Solar Aid, a non-profit aiming to “eradicate kerosene lamps from Africa by 2020”1. Sunny Money distributes affordable solar lighting through schools, as well as normal market channels such as village shops 1.
Unfortunately, neither of these avenues have reached Lifuwu, so help2kids visited Sunny Money’s operation in Lilongwe and purchased two solar lighting units.
One is a three light set that transforms Kazembe’s standard 8 classroom from a vague shadow in the night to a glowing beacon under the stars! The other is a small desk lamp for teachers to use for lesson planning, grading, and report writing. Both of the units can charge portable devices, enhancing the possibility of Kazembe using electronic media such as songs or audio recordings for classes in the future.
The lights are intended to provide standard 8 students with even more study time and will be used to hold nightly study sessions from 6 – 8 pm. We will undoubtedly see improved exam scores, but should also see improvement in the children’s health and well-being.
|Fewer children will suffer from irritated eyes and lungs from kerosene smoke, burns from candles and kerosene lamps, or malaria from studying outside underneath an exterior light at a house, church, or clinic. Supervised study time means students will have the opportunity to ask teachers questions as they arise. In data collected by Solar Aid, the majority of headmasters in communities utilizing solar lights reported an improvement in academic performance 1.
The new solar lights were delivered to Kazembe on January 8th and used for the first ever evening study session for standard 8 students on January 11th. I walked into the classroom mid-way through the session to find every student quietly and intently focused on what they were studying. I exclaimed, “Wow, you’re reading [at night]!” and every head snapped up, faces illuminated by solar lights but brightened by broad grins.
If you are interested in supporting help2kids’ efforts in improving education in Malawi, please consider making a small donation or starting a campaign on www.myhelp2kids.org. If you would like to join in the action, fill out a volunteer application – we’d love to see you in Malawi. For more information about our projects and the impact they have on the Lifuwu community, please feel free to e-mail Malawi Field Manager, Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Esper, H., London, T. and Kanchwala, Y. (2013). Access to Clean Lighting and its Impact on Children: An Exploration of SolarAid’s SunnyMoney. Child Impact Case Study No. 4. Ann Arbor: The William Davidson Institute.