IN Australian cities of Sidney, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Townsville, thousands of people switched off lights in their homes for one hour beginning at 8.30 pm on Saturday, March 29 this year to mark Earth Hour.
Elsewhere in the world, millions of people in Europe, Asia, the Americas and in Africa switched off their lights at 8.30pm in their local times on that last Saturday of March and stayed in darkness for one hour to celebrate Earth Hour, a global WWF climate change initiative that aims to create awareness of people taking responsibility towards a sustainable future by turning the lights off.
However residents of Nakiu village of Nanjirinji Ward in Kilwa District, Lindi Region celebrated the event in a different manner with the villagers symbolically switching on the lights at Nakiu Secondary School and the village dispensary at 2.30 pm on Saturday March 29, this year.
At that time Kilwa District Commissioner Abdallah Ulega inaugurated a solar system in the village that now provides electricity to the school and the dispensary, thereby supplying students with reliable, cheap and environmental-friendly energy while assuring women in the village that they would no longer deliver in darkness or use kerosene stoves in the process.
It was not surprising, therefore, that this year's Earth Hour was marked in the village with pomp and festivity that is only seen during traditional ceremonies. The cost of the equipment and its installation was a donation by WWF-Tanzania through its Coastal Forests Programme. Experts recommend use of solar energy because it is one of the cleanest sources of energy particularly if one compares it to electricity from generators that use diesel or petrol.
In rural areas electricity from solar energy goes a long way towards conserving the environment since in the absence of electricity people use firewood and kerosene for lighting. Another advantage is that homes, schools, dispensaries and other institutions can install solar systems depending on their needs and financial ability.
It also provides a short-cut to getting electricity instead of waiting to be supplied from the national grid, which may take decades to reach remote areas like Nakiu village. "You will agree with me that the use of firewood and charcoal has devastating effects on our forests and the environment in general much as we need them.
It is important for us now to think how we can use our resources sustainably so that we can continue to benefit from them for years to come. Solar energy provides us with that alternative and it should be the preferred source of energy in our homes and institutions," said Mr Ulega during the inauguration ceremony.
He explained that the decision by WWF to install solar power at the school and the dispensary should encourage individuals to do the same in their homes. "It is time you stopped using those generators; they are expensive to run and they are bad for the environment," the DC challenged. With installation of reliable electricity, things are bound to change at the school.
"The electricity will be an incentive for boys and girls to stay in the hostels. Most of them did not want to stay here because the place was dark and not safe during the night. It will also reduce the burden on parents who had to provide their children with battery-powered lamps which are expensive to run," says Nakiu Secondary School Headmaster, Salum Said Masowela.
The performance of students in national exams is also expected to improve now that they have electricity in classrooms as well as dormitories. They will have more time to study. Doto Said Kigomba, a form three student at the school is happy that at last the school has been installed with electricity in classrooms and dormitories.
"I used to spend 1,500/- every week to buy batteries for the lamp. My father will not have to bear that cost again," she says. But that is not all. "We will now have more hours to study because in the evening one can decide to study in the classroom or in the dormitories and we will have more time for discussions.
Our performance in the national examinations will surely improve. With electricity light flooding in and outside our dormitories, we will now be safe from rude boys who used to lurk around when it was dark. Now the lights will chase them away," adds the girl.
Rukia Mohamed Kiarare has been the Chairperson for Nakiu Secondary School Board for one year but sees a bright future for academic performance of the students with installation of solar power. " I am grateful to WWF because the installation of electricity should encourage students and teachers to work harder and improve their academic performance.
However, I am worried about the girls. The school has only male teachers and there is no matron for the girls. There is no one here who knows the problems that girl students face and give them appropriate guidance. This situation may affect their performance," she says.
While provision of solar energy is only one of the areas in which WWFTanzania works to deal with climate change and improve lives of the rural people, the organisation also works with communities to conserve forests for the same purpose.
Through its Costal Forests Programme, it has helped to establish land use plans for several villages as well as establish conservation forests through surveys and demarcation.
"About 300,000 hectares of forest in Kilwa district are now legally recognised as conservation forests. Our aim is to see that forests contribute to the well-being of communities while at the same time help to mitigate climate change," says Philipina Shayo from the WWF Coastal Forests Programme.
As forests flourish the Programme in collaboration with Kilwa District Council has trained several groups in beekeeping with the group from Nakiu village harvesting 113lts of honey worth over 530,000/- last year.
"We want to make sure that communities benefit from conserving forests by engaging in income-generating activities than do not destroy the environment," says Shayo.
Earth Hour started in Sidney, Australia in 2007 and seeks to give people a voice on the planet's future and work together to create a sustainable low carbon future.
WWF, which organizes the annual Earth Hour event, aims to stop degradation of the natural environment and build a future where people live in harmony with nature. It has now become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people in various countries participating.