A future re-imagined for Gwakwani Village through access to energy and education

A future re-imagined for Gwakwani Village through access to energy and education

Gwakwani’s first crèche in a solar powered containers provides early childhood education for the village children.

A successful ongoing partnership between the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science (Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment) and Schneider Electric South Africa has ensured access to basic services through sustainable interventions for Gwakwani, a small rural village with about 70 to 100 residents in northern Limpopo.

Over the past three years, this partnership has empowered the community through its eco-friendly sustainable contributions to an area that is devoid of basic services or roads. Schneider Electric’s collaboration with the University of Johannesburg on the access to energy project started with the installation of solar lighting solutions to the homes followed by solar streetlights.

“This collaboration between private industry, academia and the community has created a legacy for many years to come,” says Prof Johan Meyer, head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UJ.

“The success of community outreach projects depends on the technical solution provided as well as the social and cultural acceptability of the solution and of the solution provider.”

“Initially, we trained entrepreneurs from the village to sell and maintain our solar powered portable LED lamps, with its mobile phone charger, the Mobiya TS 120S,” says Zanelle Dalglish, head of sustainable development for Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa.

“The units are especially suited for the demanding rural environment of Gwakwani, as they use an energy efficient, eco-friendly and robust portable lamp with a 120-lumen light output.“

Working in collaboration with UJ is in line with Schneider Electric’s sustainable development strategy, which focuses on partnering with academic institutions, NGOs, NPOs and funders to establish an electrification model for off-grid communities.

Equally passionate about creating sustainable, long term solutions, UJ engineering students were provided with an opportunity for community engagement and on the job experience, ensuring they learn practically and not just theoretically.

Community members needed to travel some distance each day to fetch water from the river, where there is also significant malaria risk. UJ students identified that a high quality water system is a core need for the village, as water supplied from a diesel-powered borehole was insufficient for daily use.

“Schneider Electric South Africa assisted with the installation of a second borehole pump, donating its ‘Water of the Sun’ solution, which consists of variable speed drives to power the water pump, and a 4kw solar panel solution, provided by UJ. Now the community has access to a reliable water supply for everyday use and a newly installed drip irrigation system, which allows them to plant and grow vegetables to support themselves and sell their produce to surrounding villages,” says Dalglish.

UJ suggested that containerised solutions were needed for a solar powered bakery and the village’s first crèche. Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, supported the set-up of the solar powered containers, ensuring community members’ access to education for their children and economic opportunities for many years to come.

The bakery in solar powered container delivers 120 to 140 loaves of bread a day, which generates income for the community of Gwakwani in Limpopo.

The bakery, which had to be designed and installed in a very remote location, is now fully operational and delivers between 120 to 140 loaves of bread per day, which generates income for the community.

The UJ electrical engineering department, with support from Schneider, continues to monitor the performance and optimisation of the solar system.

“Project Connect at Gwakwani Village has provided students with an opportunity to learn and to give back to the community. Here we have seen private business working together with engineers, students and academics in an effort to connect people to their surroundings, to the economy and just as important, to the outside world. The importance of this project is immeasurable – as a learning tool and a means to make meaningful social change in this country,” says Prof Meyer.

“Through this initiative 35 households were supplied with lights, enabling the children of the village – who walk 6km to the nearest primary school and 18km to the nearest high school – to complete their homework at night. In a containerised crèche, with the first television set in the history of the village, the youngest in the community are exposed to educational channels on television and the wider world has now been brought to Gwakwani. The bakery also employs nine people, we’ve helped villagers to upgrade their skills to supplement their income.”

Dalglish says the people of Gwakwani have expressed their heartfelt gratitude for access to running water, electricity, education and skills transfers.

“Through the intervention of a successful collaboration between industry and academia they continue to benefit from access to sustainable energy and education. Residents no longer rely on candles as their primary source of lighting, and one of the Mobiya entrepreneurs was also able to build a house with the money he had raised through Mobiya sales.”