How do you do your school homework when there’s no light? That’s a problem for millions of children, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘But surely not in a town – not in Timbuktu’, you might say. Sadly, although Timbuktu has an electricity supply in principle, it was unreliable at the best of times and now most houses have no electric power. So our friends there asked Hay2Timbuktu to help.
Early in 2021, solar installations with rechargeable-lamp kits were supplied and fitted at five Timbuktu schools – giving 200 pupils the chance to do their homework by decent light. The pupils being targeted are those from poorer homes without electricity, particularly those girls working for exams and whose schooling is already being supported by H2T.
The project was initially suggested by Elmehdi Wakina from H2T’s in-country partner, AMSS, when Sandra Skinner and H2T then-Treasurer, John Winter, visited Mali at New Year of 2018/19. He was aware of a company manufacturing in Burkina Faso – and with a base in Bamako – with a system he thought could work well at schools in Timbuktu. Lagazel (https://www.lagazel.com/?lang=en) is based in France but with an African focus. Its strategy is to use locally manufactured equipment for deployment in African countries, particularly West Africa at present – bringing technology transfer, training and jobs that can lead to a sustainable rollout of products to unelectrified areas.
The product that was proposed consists of – for each school – a roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panel that is connected to a charging rack inside the school building. Each charging rack is supplied with 40 rechargeable lanterns that can be removed at home-time and will provide light (and a USB outlet to charge a phone) during the evening. The pupil then returns the lantern to the school next day, for recharging.
Here is a link to a film showing the lights in action in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
While H2T trustees were excited by the idea, we wanted to exercise due caution as there is a long history of solar products being donated to projects across the less developed world yet failing due to lack of maintenance, understanding, or appreciation. Before raising funds to direct to this project in Timbuktu, we wanted to be fairly confident that this project would endure and bring real benefits over the medium to long term.
An equivalent project had been started across a number of schools in Burkina Faso, so we waited to see how that was progressing. We also wanted to make sure that some training would be in place to ensure the equipment would be used correctly, and for small problems to be fixable by the people involved locally. We also wanted to have some funds put aside to ensure that some of the lamps could be replaced if they failed after the expiry of their two-year guarantee and couldn’t be repaired, or if new rechargeable batteries were needed.
Once we were reasonably confident that the system would work, we set about raising funds – in Autumn 2019 – to put the installations in the three schools that we normally work with. Some 20 H2T supporters sponsored a lamp, and others made donations to the solar lamps fund. The arrival of Covid-19 made our fundraising trickier, but during the course of the year we were given permission by DFID to redirect some funds (originally for travel, which became impossible) into the solar lights fund. This not only enabled us to reach our target for the three schools we had planned to support, but actually to extend the scheme to a further two schools. We were able to give the go-ahead to AMSS and Lagazel in November 2020, and funds were transferred at the end of that year (£9488.73, just below our budget of £9500).
Virus travel restrictions delayed the installations somewhat, but in February of 2021 they were installed at the following five schools:
- Yahia Alkaya
- Alpha Daouna
- Cheik Nouh
- And the 2nd Cycle school in the mayors area
Monitoring exactly how the systems are performing and being used is a little tricky, given that they are at different establishments, and we don’t want to burden the schools with a cumbersome reporting system. However, we’ve been told that Lagazel’s R&D team is developing a system, and their Mali-based team are doing a certain amount of monitoring as they are gathering experience in the use of these systems, and we are in regular contact with their head of partnerships, Romane Méalier, who has sent reports and photographs. From what we can see, Lagazel is an impressive business and has been a good partner, so while we should be a little cautious of relying on them (as a supplier) for reports, the news they send is useful and we expect some feedback from the schools in due course, although currently the damage done to internet masts is hampering communication with Timbuktu.
REPORT DISTRIBUTED IN THE LAGAZEL NEWSLETTER
“In five schools of the Timbuktu region, a collective charging stations project emerged in FebruarY, 2021 thanks to an initiative from Timbuktu’s twin town in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, which since 2007 has worked in particular to support Timbuktu schools, particularly the education of disadvantaged girls (see http://hay2timbuktu.org). Their funding was partly donations from people in Hay, and partly from a UK government funding programme. The project was delivered in Mali by the local association AMSS (Association Malienne pour la Survie du Sahel) and Lagazel. Lamps were split between the five institutions and distributed to young girls whose homes were not electrified, so they can benefit from improved learning conditions, and indeed to encourage them continuing their studies. To recharge the lamps, five stations were installed : one per school. Solar panels were fixed on the roofs by a Malian welder, with the support of LAGAZEL’s team in Mali. The follow-up of the equipment is ensured by the directors and teaching managers, who check that the borrowed lamps are coming back to school and stay in good condition. After this operation, feedbacks have been widely positive and beneficiaries wish to purchase more lamps in order to cater the needs of all of the children. See you next February for an update after 1 year !”
Cake sales generated substantial funds and January saw a sponsored darkness day when pupils in Hay worked for a whole day without electricity to see how Timbuktu students face difficulties in studying with limited or no electricity.