International Resources & Recycling Institute and Renew ‘N’ Able Malawi connecting schools and communities through solar power
The International Resources & Recycling Institute (IRRI) and their partner Renew ‘N’ Able Malawi (RENAMA) are both organisations focused on supporting clean and environmentally sustainable development. They currently work together on the Sukulu Yowala (‘School that Shines!’) project delivering solar lighting and electricity for off-grid rural schools in Malawi’s Thyolo district, allowing the use and teaching of IT, light for students’ evening study and a charging point for the local community’s mobile phones. These activities remained important when coronavirus restrictions were introduced, with mobile communications becoming even more vital as people needed to get information and contact those living further away.
As most of the Sukulu Yowala project activities involved work with students, those elements had to be put on hold when schools closed. There was no switch to online study as in rural Malawi most parents and students don’t have devices to allow that – even a government initiative to hold lessons through radio broadcasts failed to reach all communities as many did not have radio access. While this was the situation for the communities as many families involved in this project and school engagement stopped, the other element of the project, the solar phone charging became much more important as people’s need to ensure they had fully charged phones to receive updates on the pandemic was more urgent.
The grant was used for:
- PPE for 108 people (a mix of RENAMA staff and community representatives who are engaged in the Sukulu Yowala project)
- Setting up handwashing facilities in each of the six schools involved in the project (as schools have no running water)
- Printing and display of health information posters with clear information on risks and prevention, and contact details to report suspected cases of coronavirus
With each school serving communities of over 5,000, these simple steps meant that thousands of people benefited in important ways.
As Mr. Matthews Mdara, a local resident, observed to the RENAMA team, when news of coronavirus first reached the community by radio, many did not take it seriously and took no precautions until seeing the posters, which helped spread the understanding that the pandemic was a serious matter.
Another community member, Ms. Prisca Chikopa, noted that the requirement for handwashing when people came to the school kiosk for phone charging helped spread good hygiene practices as people returned back to more remote villages with information.
When schools reopened in September with new obligatory measures including mask-wearing, the posters, handwashing facilities and hygiene practices instituted at the charging kiosks supported preventive behaviour among students and staff at a crucial time for disease control.
Mr Yonasi Laison, Mphedzu Primary School’s Deputy Head, commented that having the posters and handwashing facilities installed before re-opening, “has made our work even easier.”
Gladys Phiri, a standard 5 student from Gombwa Primary School, explained,
“The posters are visible even from afar… it’s the first thing I see… I cannot help but wash my hands every time when I am going into the classrooms because the posters are everywhere reminding me of the importance of washing my hands and wearing my mask.”
Hazwell, a student at Mphedzu Primary School, noted,
“At first, I didn’t believe that the disease was that serious. But when I saw the handwashing materials, the buckets and the soap at the school, I realized that RENAMA could not have brought all this if the disease was not real. Now I am more serious to prevent it, even when I go home, I make sure that I wash my hands with soap all the time and also cover my nose and mouth in the right way when I’m sneezing.”
As the Sukulu Yowala project progresses, RENAMA has been taking advantage of its routine monitoring visits to encourage the learners and the teachers from the schools, to continue following the guidelines on the posters and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Corra Foundation is working in partnership with the Scottish Government to administer and manage a number of the Scottish Government’s development assistance programmes to work with communities overseas. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Corra has also made a number of micro grants to organisations already known to Corra to support their partnership work overseas.