Solar power lights up dreams of Taita Taveta’s learners

Solar power lights up dreams of Taita Taveta’s learners

“The theory was good and we covered the syllabus. But we didn’t do practicals. We didn’t learn practically how to use the flat iron, dryer and blow-dry. The school has had the gadgets just that we didn’t have electricity,” says 24-year-old Lucy Machocho Mjomba, a hairdressing student at Kishushe Vocational Training Institute in Tsavo, Taita-Taveta County. For two years after the Kishushe Vocational Training Institute opened its doors to students offering courses in hairdressing and beauty therapy, garment making, masonry and carpentry, all its electric-powered equipment lay idle, unused because of lack of electricity. But that is no longer the case. For the first time since the County Government-funded skill-based college was founded in 2019, students will resume their studies on September 6th 2021, to find a fully solarised institution whose classrooms are lit and electric gadgets ready for use. The college was solarised by World Wide Fund for Nature – Kenya (WWF-Kenya) under its Climate Change Adaptation Project with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and development (BMZ). The installation is a 45 kilowatts (kw) solar stand-alone system, equivalent to a three-phase power supply of electricity suitable for commercial and industrial facilities. “To ensure fairness and sustainability of the project, stakeholder engagement and participation involving the local community and County Administration provided the solution. Through this process, stakeholders were able to objectively rationalise benefiting institutions. They managed to identify an institution which will empower the youth to ensure self-reliance through training contributing to sustainable livelihoods,” says Robert Ndetei, WWF-Kenya’s BMZ Project Manager. Excitement on the impact of the solar project is palpable among the beneficiaries. James Mlawasi Kombo, the Manager of Kishushe Vocational Training Centre (Kishushe Institute) is already envisioning growth for the school. “We expect to start courses in electrical installation, welding and fabrication. The technicians who installed the solar panels told us that the power we generate can be used for welding. A survey revealed that there is underground water in the school compound. If we can get a borehole, we can use solar power to pump water to help the school and the community. The water can also help us to start other courses like agribusiness. ” added James. Lucy, who will sit her hairdressing certificate exams later this year, is eager to take part in the practical lessons when she resumes school next month. She plans to register for the diploma course right after. The courses offered at Kishushe Institute are administered by the National Industrial Training Authority, and the school hopes to attract more students from the wider region as well as provide boarding facilities in the future. “I wish to double the number of students. I will attend the chiefs’ barazas to recruit more students through public awareness campaigns. I will also print brochures to capture the fact that we now have solar power. ” said James. The school has a population of about 65 regular students with the garment-making course being the most popular with 35 registered learners, according to the manager. “There were many students who had been waiting for the electrification of the school to undertake courses in welding, electric installation and garment-making. We appreciate this project because the school is not connected to the national electricity grid. Now that we have solar power, many students will register as the school reopens in September,” said Kishushe Chief David Fete Mwandagina.   Kishushe Location is home to approximately 8,000 people with a large population of youth numbering at least 3,000-4,000, according to the chief. Based on the 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the percentage of youth aged 20-29 had the highest proportion of unemployment representing 28.8% of the country’s labour force of 19 million people. This translates to 5,483,963 unemployed youth in the country according to the KNBS data collected under their Kenya Continuous Household Survey Programme. At the same time, government data shows that the age groups of 25-29 and 30-34 recorded high proportions of persons in the Not in Education, Employment or Training at 20.5% and 15.7% respectively. With young people worst hit by unemployment and skills-gap, the solarisation of Kishushe is set to positively impact the skilling of the local youth, equipping them with vocational and technical skills that will increase their chances of employment or build their capacity for self-employment. “The project’s goal is to establish a pilot intervention that promotes use of clean and sustainable green energy that can be scaled up. This is critical in attaining Kenya’s Vision 2030. Access to reliable and cost-effective energy is a major driver of development. By extension, the Kishushe Institute will be able to attain its mandate of capacity building within Taita Taveta County and beyond. The different courses done in Kishushe Institute result in diversified livelihoods.” said Dr. Martin Mulama, WWF-Kenya’s Southern-Kenya Landscape Manager. Lucy, who has been pursuing the hairdressing certificate course alongside 25 other students, is upbeat about the future and is inclined towards self-employment. “With my skills, It is not a must that I look for formal employment. I can employ myself. After my education, I plan to set up a salon in which I expect to increase my income. I will be offering hairdressing services and selling hair products. I can open the business in Kishushe or in other places where there is a market for my services. ” said Lucy. The 24-year-old has already been earning a living through what she calls “mobile” hairdressing, which encompasses offering services to customers at their homes in Kishushe. She is proud of the skills she has gained so far. Lucy confesses that she registered for the course after a stint in a Nairobi salon where her lack of skills became quite evident to her. “I was interested in learning about hairdressing. It is something I have had an interest in since my childhood. I have been plaiting hair since I was in Class 8. After completing Form Four in 2015, I worked as a shopkeeper but later moved to Nairobi where I worked in a salon between June 2018 to July 2019. My employer and I had little hairdressing knowledge. We didn’t know how to plait Abuja, Ghanaians and Bandika lines. We only used to do weave, wig setting and blow drying. This is what prompted me to register for a certificate course in hairdressing. Kishushe borders the Tsavo West National Park, therefore, human-wildlife conflict is a common occurrence in the landscape. The conflict has had a negative impact on learning, says Chief David Fete Mwandagina, as school going children often lose valuable time as they arrive late in school or have to leave early to avoid dangerous encounters with wild animals. However, with one secondary school, one vocational training institution and three primary schools now solarised through the WWF-Kenya project, security for learners and the institutions has improved. At Mkanyatta Primary School, one of the beneficiaries of the solar project, the headmaster Wilson Mwatika Mbololo, revealed that their solar-powered lights have been acting as security at night, deterring elephants from entering the compound. “The lights have kept off the elephants. They now just pass by, but far away from the school compound. Before we had these lights, they destroyed our 10,000-litre water tank that was donated by the county government.” said Wilson. During their search for water in the drought-stricken land, the elephants quenched their thirst at the water tank at least four times, according to Wilson. “The first time they came, they destroyed the gutter and the tank lid, and drank the water from the top. They left the tank intact. We reported to the Kenya Wildlife Service and they inspected the damage. The elephants came a second time and they left the tank intact again. But during the last visit, the tank water level had dropped so they destroyed it. There were about five elephants pushing the tank from different directions. We were asked to build a wall around the tank but a wall is nothing to elephants,” says Wilson. Besides the improvement of security for learners, the other big impact on pupils at the solarised schools has been the levelling of the playing field because the teachers now have access to online content which is a key pillar of the new Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) education system. “Our stay here is more comfortable because we have the charging system at hand. Using our phones we can download teaching curriculum materials from the internet with ease. For learning, we download pictures, diagrams, meanings of words, and we also take videos of learners as they participate in some of the learning activities. The Teachers Service Commission requires us to upload some of the videos as evidence of learning. Learners now enjoy the same quality of education as schools in towns and other places.” the headmaster added. Because of the solarisation project, Mkanyatta Primary School registered 13 new pupils when schools reopened in 2021 with an additional one having transferred from another school. “The number of new students would have been half were it not for the solar power. Many more are promising to join our school, ” said Wilson. The teachers’ morale has also improved. The community members are happy and positive about the project. We even charge mobile phones for free for community members, added the headmaster. The 18 solar panels that were installed at Mkanyatta produce 350 volts, according to Wilson. All the five classrooms in the new school are connected to solar power, serving two pre-school and three lower primary classes.

latest stories