Benefits of urban life come to Chipendeke

Many rural communities in Zimbabwe still lack access to reliable energy. This means they have no light in the evening, limited access to radio and modern communications, inadequate education and health facilities, and not enough power for their work and businesses.

But for Onias Mawoyo, a 79-year-old farmer from rural Chipendeke, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland Province, this is no longer the case.

“Having electricity, let alone owning a television set or a radio, was just a dream. Nobody ever thought that one day Chipendeke households, businesses and the clinic would have electricity,” exclaimed Mawoyo as he uses the remote control to flip through the channels before settling to watch the local news.

“Urban life has come to Chipendeke. We can watch television and stay informed of the market prices of our commodities. There is no need for me to travel all the way to Mutare, 64 kilometres away, to find that information.

“We never thought we would have electricity in Chipendeke, and we relied mainly on candles and paraffin lamps for lighting in our homes. In worst case scenarios people had to use kerosene, which lasts a bit longer but is very hazardous to health,” he adds.

There has been a remarkable change in the lives of the communities of Chipendeke as a result of a micro-hydro generation scheme constructed in Chipendeke by Practical Action Southern Africa. This five-year project is funded by the European Union and seeks to improve energy access through community managed decentralised micro hydro systems in poor marginalised rural communities in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The micro-hydro scheme at Chipendeke was commissioned in 2008 and now 27 households, 6 shops, a school and a clinic have electricity.

Mary Mujuru (above) is nursing sister at Chipendeke Clinic. She used to have problems operating at night due to lack of lighting and faced challenges in refrigerating vaccines.

“It was difficult to deliver babies at night - we faced the hassles of using candles or paraffin lamps and using a fire to boil water to sterilise the utensils to be used.

“We have now managed to buy a refrigerator to store our drugs. After seeing this, UNICEF donated another fridge to the clinic. Electric boilers are also now available for quick, easy sterilisation of utensils,” she added. 

Less than a kilometre away from the clinic is Chipendeke Primary School, which also benefits from this micro hydro installation. Casper Kasu is in grade 7 at this school of 500 pupils. “Studying or doing assignments at night were a challenge for us before, but now we are no longer using paraffin lamps” says Casper.  With the grade 7 examinations already underway, Casper and his fellow students now have a fair chance of success and progressing with their studies.

There is also renewed hope for businesses in the area. The project has aptly demonstrated that access to energy offers communities simple, yet life-changing opportunities such as education, sanitation and healthcare. Smallholder farmers in Chipendeke now have access to an integrated energy supply, providing a vital stage in the development of this remote village. This can lead to swift and significant improvements in people’s livelihoods both directly as in the provision of light and motor power and indirectly as the time and money that the communities are saving is redirected into other economically productive activities.

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