By FRANCINA CHOMBA-
THE lighting up of Kabamba Secondary School in Serenje district in Central Province has given Priscilla Ngosa every reason to be excited.
This is because Kabamba is the secondary school the 17-year old Grade 12 pupil attends.
Being in a rural district which now had electricity, the school has opened up many possibilities for its pupils like Priscilla who are thrilled about having access to electricity.
The lighting up of Kabamba Secondary School has changed the outlook of the environment.
Classrooms have non-stop electricity and the school has suddenly become more lively and interesting for the pupils who are able to undertake studies at whichever time of the day without worrying that it would be dark.
This follows the installation of the first ever 40kWP Kabamba Solar Mini Grid which was jointly financed by the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) and Kafue Gorge Regional Training Centre with support from the Government.
The project seeks to benefit at least 13,000 people.
Priscilla said her dream of becoming a doctor is now certain because she has ample time to study at night to prepare for examinations unlike before when she depended on candles.
“I am so excited because the environment has changed with the coming of electricity. I ‘m able to have enough time to study at night and I see my performance in school improving tremendously,” Priscilla said.
Progress Ngoma is another pupil who celebrated the connection of her school to electricity.
She said she used to admire her friends in urban areas who are able to handle computers without any challenges.
Progress said with the availability of electricity at her school, computers would now be available for use and Information Communication Technology (ICT) would become exciting unlike before when she and the rest of the pupils just used to learn theory.
Devote Chilumba, who is an expecting mother, could hold back tears of joy after seeing the maternity ward and the entire Kabamba Rural Health Centre lit with electricity.
Ms Chilumba is happy that local women would now give birth in wards that have electricity.
She said health workers will also be able to help patient who need surgery even at night.
Ms Chilumba said prior to the completion of the mini-grid project, health workers used candles and lamps to attend to patients who needed surgery at night.
She said the situation was not easy for both the patients and the health workers.
Ms Chilumba, who is a mother of one, said with the provision of electricity, she is no longer worried about delivering her baby from the health centre because the availability of electricity has boosted her confidence.
She said electricity will improve the quality of healthcare services at Kabamba Health Centre.
Without reliable access to electricity, many important hospital tools, such as lights, vaccine storage, medical devices among others, become ineffective and unusable.
Other public institutions such as schools, were also affected in service delivery, especially in the area of operating computer and science laboratories which are critical in teaching subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) being promoted by the Government among school girls.
It is for this reason that the Government has identified decentralised mini-grid systems as a cost-effective and economically viable option for increasing access to electricity in rural communities.
Energy Minister Peter Kapala said the New Dawn Government’s desire was to increase access to electricity in rural areas from current levels of about eight per cent to 51 per cent by 2030.
Speaking when he commissioned the 45 kilowatts (kW) Kabamba Solar Mini-Grid in Kabamba chiefdom, which was installed at a cost of US$100,000, Mr Kapala said the main challenge to increasing electricity access and connecting rural areas to the national electricity grid has been low population density.
He said this has been making electrification expensive.
“As you may be aware, access to electricity remains very low in Zambia, standing at 34 per cent at national level, with only eight per cent of the rural population having access to electricity,” he said.
The Energy minister said the Kabamba mini-solar project demonstrated the Government’s commitment towards increasing access to electricity services and improving people’s livelihoods in rural communities.
He said the project would provide empirical evidence of the economic, social and environmental viability of similar mini-grids using a prepaid metering system for consumers in order to ensure sustainability as well as guarantee effective operation.
However, Mr Kapala said the initial plan to electrify Kabamba area was to construct a 200KW mini-hydro plant at Chipota Falls which could not kick off due to limited financial resources.
He said if the mini hydro plant was built, about 15,000 consumers as per the market survey conducted would have been able to benefit from the initiative.
The Energy minister said the Government would not relent but continue with resource mobilization efforts to ensure that Chipota Falls mini hydro project is developed as well ensure that connections are extended to more households in the chiefdom.
“With this development, provision of education and healthcare services will be delivered effectively and economic activity will be enhanced,” he said.
The Government wants to ensure that school children are able to study at night and healthcare, especially involving maternity cases, is provided to mothers be it during the day or at night.
Mr Kapala said reminded the residents of Kabamba chiefdom about the policy direction to devolve financial resources to local communities through decentralisation.
“The availability of the mini-grid and the resulting energy to be produced, combined with the resources managed at Local Government level, shall contribute to accelerated socio-economic development in Chief Kabamba’s area and generally in Serenje district,” he said.
The mini-solar grid will supply electricity to Kabamba primary and secondary school and the staff houses, the local magistrate court as well as the rural health center and its staff houses.
Central Province Minister Credo Nanjiwa expressed confidence that the provision of electricity would accelerate development in Chief Kabamba’s Village and contribute towards the development of Serenje district and the country at large.
Mr Nanjiwa said the project has set a tone for accelerated development of similar projects mostly to needy communities in Central Province and the country at large.
“My office is more than ready to work with the ministry of energy to implement similar projects in the province,” he said.
REA Acting Chief Executive Officer Clement Sasa said the authority is committed to increasing rural electrification efforts to all using appropriate technology, which includes mini grids, grid extension, hydro power and other technologies available to ensure that people’s livelihoods in rural communities were improved.
Mr Sasa expressed optimism that Kabamba mini project will go a long way in improving livelihoods of people in that area.
He said REA’s mandate is to increase electricity infrastructure in rural areas in all the 10 provinces.
“With this development, provision of education and health care services can be delivered effectively and economic activity can be enhanced. School children will now be able to study at night, maternal healthcare can now be provided to our nursing mothers through the night,” he said.
Zesco managing director Victor Mundende said with the new policy direction from the Government, which seeks to increase access to electricity for rural communities through off- grid solutions, the utility company has positioned itself to play an enabling role towards the implementation of the policy.
Speaking in a speech read by Zesco director generation Fidelis Mubiana, Mr Mundende said Zesco has the capacity and is equipped with the knowledge, skills, tools, software and experience necessary to carry out feasibility studies and project preparation for off-grid solar projects.
Chief Kabamba said he was happy with the mini-solar project.
The traditional leader said his community would no longer live in the dark as was the case before.
The chief said his subjects used to go to Serenje to shave and plait their hair, but that had now come to an end.
“We are now at the same level with the people living in Lusaka. We are no longer in the dark and I am optimistic that this development will spur social and economic development,” he said.
The traditional leader was optimistic that the availability of electricity would boost growth in local businesses, increase money circulation in the community and improve the livelihoods of the local people.
He urged the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) to recall teachers who shunned classes due to lack of electricity.
It is believed that in the near future, the Kabamba Mini-Solar Grid will be the first hybrid technology project that will be operating on solar and hydro technology following the development of the 200kW mini-hydro project at Chipota Falls, which is also within Chief Kabamba’s area.
The hydro project was been outstanding for a long time.