From darkness to light

Lack of access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services is a challenge for the rural population in Zimbabwe.  Energy is supplied in the country by a mixture of hydroelectricity, coal and renewables. According to the world energy outlook 2000, the national electrification rate is only 41.5%. While electricity has reached most of the urban households, rural electrification is still below 19%. 

In 2015 Practical Action in partnership with SNV and Dabane Trust with funds from the European Union,the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme started the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project in Gwanda district in Matabeleland South Province. The project has established a 99 kw solar powered decentralised mini-grid in the area, which is expected to benefit at least 10,000 people.

Energy is essential service for the development of rural communities and is a precursor for meeting national and international development goals such as the sustainable development goals.

Life has not been rosy for 12 year old Delight Ncube from in Mashaba in Gwanda.  She has one sister aged 15 and lives with her parents who rely on subsistence farming. Just like other children in the area Delight wakes up every morning to fetch water for the family before walking for half and hour to Mashaba Primary school. On her return she goes to look for firewood and later plays with her friends. Delight is preparing to sit for the Grade 7 examinations and studying in the evenings is a challenge.

”We use candles at home for lighting. The light is not very good and it is very difficult to study” said Delight.

Turning dreams into reality

Delight and her friends at Mashaba primary school have been in darkness for years. The school, with an enrolment of 346 pupils is served by 15 teachers (7 qualified and 8 student teachers) but had never been connected to electricity. This meant that pupils did not have adequate lighting and were unable to use other educational tools like computers to assist in their learning. Teacher enrolment had also been difficult as teachers shun rural schools because of lack of electricity. 

Now all this has become history.  The successful implementation of the SE4RC project means that the school now has electricity. 

The power being generated by the solar mini grid is transforming lives in Mashaba. The mini grid is powering Mashaba Primary school, Mashaba Clinic, three irrigation schemes and two business centres. Access to energy will help to improve education, health, agriculture and businesses in the area.

With solar energy to keep the lights on, schools can stay open longer, so children without electricity in their homes can do their homework and also study at school in the evenings. This will help to give children an even better education, potentially transforming their futures. 

"I am very happy that we now have electricity at our school because I can now come to school in the evening to study. I had never used a computer before and I have only seen them in books.  Now we will be able to use computers to learn and it will help me with my education. When I grow up I want to be a pilot and earn lots of money to look after my family." Delight Ncube, age 12



Information technology (IT) is transforming all sectors; education included. The Zimbabwe government has been accelerating IT access in schools throughout the country. Sadly, rural schools have lagged behind due to lack of access to electricity. With access to energy from the solar mini grid, Mashaba Primary school children will now be able to harness the full potential IT based learning just like their fellow students in the urban areas.

Mashaba school has taken a huge leap from being off grid to being a school with access to a decentralized and sustainable energy source.

“We are now a totally transformed school as a result of access to electricity. This will open up a whole new world to the pupils and teachers at the school”, said Obert Ncube, the Deputy Head at the school.

“Our future plans are to be globally connected through the internet and also have photocopying and printing facilities for examination papers and other important school documents”, he continued.

For Delight and other pupils at the school, the future is now brighter. It is hoped that the solar mini grid will provide a test case to demonstrate that decentralized energy systems can tackle energy poverty in Zimbabwe and ensure that off-grid rural communities have access to sustainable energy to improve their lives through increased production, better education, health and improved incomes.

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