Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Electricity... Cutting Costs… Selling Generators… Sustaining the Project… Yay!

When we walked into Mmaweshi Primary School this morning, I didn’t even notice the fact that there were power strips plugged into the wall with XOs charging through them. I got caught up in working on the newspaper right away… I sometimes have tunnel vision. Then, I heard Gordon say my name. I turned around and saw him turn the switch of a power strip on, making it turn red to show that it was receiving power. He had a really goofy/excited smile on his face, which made me look at him like he was a little crazy, until I realized….


The government has been promising electricity to Mmaweshi for well over a year now, but the electricity never came. We have been told all summer that the electricity would be installed “any day now,” but to be perfectly honest, I had given up hope. To see the power strip light turn red, and to realize what that meant, was one of the happiest moments of this project so far. The teachers ran up to us with big smiles on their faces, and we literally all hugged and high fived because we were so happy (cheesy, but true).

This change has made a huge step towards permanently sustaining this project in the future. Up until this point, we have charged the laptops at Mmaweshi (and at Driehoek) by using generators. Gas for the generators costs about 30-35 rand each month. Our partners at Thusanang also had to deliver this gas to the two schools each month, taking their time and also taking more money out of our budget for travel costs.

Units of electricity are actually very cheap here, once electricity has been installed and turned on. Fourteen units of electricity cost 10 rand (approx. $1.25). To give you an idea of how much electricity “one unit” provides: we charged 15 laptops for 3 full hours today while the student s used them, and only went through 1 unit of electricity. We are estimating that they will need approximately one unit of electricity a day to charge the laptops (this is probably an over-estimation, though, as many of the students got electricity turned on in their homes at the same time, and as the students will be receiving individual solar panels for their laptops in the near future). This means that, to charge the laptops, Mmaweshi should need approximately 25 units of electricity a month, which can be purchased for 15-20 Rand ($2-3).

Of course, the first thing that Mmaweshi’s principal says to us is “You are going to pay for our electricity now, right?” Paying for electricity at Mmaweshi for an indefinite amount of time is definitely not a step in the right direction for project sustainability, so we had to put our celebration on hold to figure out how we are going to deal with this new change. We came up with a plan of action that we are all really happy with. We have decided that we will pay for enough electricity to cover charging the laptops through the end of this school year (December). By December, Mmaweshi will be expected to cover its own cost of electricity, and to continue to make charging the laptops a priority. This gives Mmaweshi 5 months to figure out a plan of action so that we aren’t just springing this on them.

AND… we get to sell the generator that we purchased for Mmaweshi last year!!! We bought it for 4000 Rand ($500), and it is still in great condition, so hopefully we will get most of our money back so that we can use it to sustain the project in other ways.

All in all, we couldn’t be happier! Maybe Driehoek will be next???

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