MOHAMMED Thabit is one of more than 840 students in various secondary schools in Zanzibar now using solar powered lights for their studies at night.
"We are so much relieved now as we can do our home works and revise our studies at night for as long as we want. In the past we were forced to go to bed very early for lack of reading light," says Thabit, a Form-II student in Mwera village. Solar lamps are being distributed in secondary schools by the Zanzibar Solar Energy Association (ZSEA) under its project dubbed 'one-child onelight' supported by the Deuche Tanzania Partnership (DTP) volunteers.
Power supply from the National Grid to Zanzibar is so much erratic, but also many schools and homes in Isles villages are still without electricity. "The situation has prompted ZSEA to start awareness campaign on the importance of solar energy. Our awareness programme is followed by the provision of solar lamps to schools in need," explains Mr Mussa Abdi Khamis, ZSEA secretary.
He said that his association has already distributed solar lamps to 21 schools each getting 40 lamps. "The distribution started mid last year at Kibele School before extending to other schools," he said. Khamis said individual schools are supposed to contribute 9,000/- for the maintenance of each lamp.
The ZSEA secretary said, "The demand for the lamps has been growing, but unfortunately we have budgeted for a maximum of 40 lamps for each school. We may think of increasing the supply in future," he said.
He named other schools which have already benefited from the programme as Muyuni, Paje, Kizimkazi, Kizimkazi-Dimbani, Chejuu, Matemwe, Mkwajuni, Chaani, Mahonda, Nungwi, Mfenesini, Chuini, Mchangani, Uzini, Mchangani, Puani- Changani, Mwenge-Dole, Chukwani, Pete, Mwera and Fundo.
ZSEA Manager Ramadhani Saidi Omar said the aim of the project is to help students in their studies and that there is already a positive feedback on the usefulness of the lamps. The 'one-child onelight' project is also a job opportunity to at least five female youths who have been employed by the ZSEA for assembling the India-made solar-powered lamps.
The locally trained technicians include Ms Naima Omar Rashid, Ms Asia Vuai Mrisho, Ms Abeida Hassan Mkadam, Ms Khadija Vuai Mrisho and Ms Halima Omar Rashid. The group was trained by Ms Dalila Omar Rashid 'solar-lamps technician' who graduated from India.
According to Ms Khadija, assembling of one solar lamp takes about 30 minutes when done by a single person. "We do it jointly therefore the work takes less than 30 minutes," she said. She said each lamp has a portable solar power-generating panel used to charge the battery which enables the lamp to provide light for 12 hours continuously, advising students on proper handling for longer life.
"The only challenge in assembling the solar lamps is that sometimes we get not working or missing parts (accessories)," Ms Khadija explained. She said that although they are paid for the work, they feel they are contributing positively to the academic success of Zanzibar students.
Ms Naima said in many cases, the lamps are the only source of lighting in schools which are situated in parts of the islands still without or with unreliable electricity. "When we started the lamps lasted for fewer hours but were later on modified to last for 12 hours," she said.
She said the project demonstrated the ZSEA efforts in helping address the need for affordable and reliable renewable energy in Zanzibar schools and villages. The lamps, she said are environmentally friendly. Solar technology is spreading throughout countries across Africa and it is getting cheaper and more efficient due to lack of sufficient power supply.
The secretary said that the Zanzibar Solar Energy Association was founded in 2003 and registered in 2006. In 2007 the ZASEA members and volunteers firstly thought about an efficient way of distributing the knowledge about solar energy in rural areas and in schools which are not connected to the national grid. "In our educational campaigns we explain the importance and advantage of solar energy ...its cost and reliability as compared with other sources of energy," Mr Mussa said.