Sharing light and warmth at school

Sustainable energy in Peru

The installation of a hybrid solar and wind energy system has transformed the lives of this community in the Cajamarca district of Peru.

No sooner had the truck stopped opposite the Morowisha Primary school in the Porcón Alto settlement than a group of children jumped out.  With smiling faces they exclaimed “We’ve arrived!”  It's hard to smile with a freezing wind hitting your face.  But the wind is not surprising as the school in this community is located at 3,800 metres above sea level.

“Come on in and have a rest!” said a friendly woman emerging from a small room alongside the school. “Come and have something warm for breakfast to fight the cold.” She was dressed for the local climate in a thermal jacket that covered her up to her neck and on her head a cosy woollen hat with earflaps, characteristic of the Peruvian highlands and ideal to keep warm in these extreme temperatures.

Without hesitation we accepted her invitation.  The lady introduced herself as Francisca Miriam Risco Díaz, the schoolteacher. She is 42 years old and has been teaching in the local school for over ten years.  We met a group of mothers cooking breakfast for the visitors.  Soon a bowl of rich mutton broth with maize was placed in our hands, the best recipe to raise our spirits.

We were here to find out about the benefits that Practical Action had brought to this educational institution, through the installation of a solar energy system and access to clean water.  But first Miriam told us about her life before she came to Morowisha. She began by telling us that classes depended on the weather, because darkness caused by fog usually put an end to the lessons.  But she found creative ways to carry on teaching. 

“On sunny days there was a nice atmosphere, even though it was rather cold in the mornings.  On dull days we would find other ways to comply with our educational tasks”, she explained.

Miriam’s face lit up with a smile as she spoke about the work undertaken by Practical Action in the school.  It now has electricity, hot water even tiled bathrooms!  The children’s lives have improved, now they have facilities as good as or even better than in the city.  She explained that they have a trained operator to repair electrical faults, but “they don’t need help yet; maybe in a couple of years” she predicted.

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Throughout this conversation, the children at their desks were whispering, “the teacher is going to appear on TV - I wonder which channel it will be?” which prompted the teacher to resume her role and give them work to do.  Some of them were quietly reading the lessons on a mini XO laptop donated by Peru’s education department ‘One Laptop per Child’ programme, whilst others competed with their classmates to complete a jigsaw.

Their mini laptops have a small solar charging panel, but when hailstorms and mist arrive in winter the laptops cannot be charged.  The installation of the hybrid wind and solar system means they will be able to charge the computers despite the rain or fog.  They can even watch videos and listen to CD stories on the sound system.  Furthermore and within the next few days a new computer donated by the provincial municipality will be installed.

Cultivating land and herding cattle are essential chores in the community to support the family, and children help with these activities when they get home from school.  As a result it was difficult for them to do their homework because after doing their chores it was too dark.

When we broached the subject of water, Miriam told us: “Previously the school had two cesspools and a stream from where we all brought water, but now we have fresh water from tap. The children are given talks on how to wash their hands, brush their teeth, use their towels, take a shower and take care of the fresh water supply.  It is a way of teaching them everything, not just reading.  They are only just getting used to it - and they like it.”

The community in Morowisha know that they are not alone. They have an organisation like Practical Action interested in improving the quality of their lives and offering better services, taking advantage of the renewable energy provided by nature.

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