Form 2 dropout lights 15 villages of Rumphi

For 20 years or so, the people of Mkandapasi and Chikontha Mlankhanthira Villages in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachulu in Rumphi lived side by side with the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) poles that connect Livingstonia University from Wovwe Hydro Power Station in Karonga.

Yet none of the villagers enjoyed the comfort of living in an electrified home.

“Not that we didn’t apply for connection, but ESCOM chose to sideline us. I applied for more 10 years back, but whenever I reminded them about it, they kept changing goal posts on when they would connect me,” explained Group Village Head (GVH) Chikontha Mlankhanthira.

Khonje–Our role is to ensure these mini-grids are operating under safety regulations and guidelines–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Such has been the life for the people in Mkandapasi, Chikontha Mlankhanthira and 13 other villages that make up T/A Kachulu.

Tired and frustrated with ESCOM procrastination, in 2015, one of the community members, John Sailence, asked traditional and community leaders if they could allow him initiative a mini-grid project to generate power using Manchewe Falls.

Sailence, who seven years earlier had dropped out of school in Form Two at Msongwe Community Day Secondary School because of lack of tuition fees, was convinced that this was the only way to bring light to the area.

“People didn’t believe me, but I went on to try it,” narrated the soft-spoken man who is in his early 30s.

And thus, Chipopoma Hydro Power, a community-based project, was given to birth. Soon, the project won the heart and support of owners of a local social enterprise business, Mushroom Farm, Naomi Oppriecht, and community members.

Lucy undergoing instructions in tailoring and designing at Mtende Homcraft Foundation at Manchewe Trading Centre in Rumphi–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

With this funding the community managed to procure a 50 KW generator, a locally made turbine, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and two maize mills.

The system started to operate in 2018 by powering the maize mill in the community. But since the pipes were not of the standard for the penstock of the system, it failed after running for few months.

It is at this point that the project committee requested the government to provide financial assistance for a power line construction as well as standard pipes for the penstocks.

The government granted the support under “Increasing Access to Clean and Affordable Decentralized Energy Services (AICADES) Project”, which is being implemented by the Department of Energy Affairs with funding from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Green Energy Fund (GEF).

UNDP provided US$ USD 350, 000 to cover the upgrading of the power generation system and procurement and installation of transmission and distribution materials effectively curtailing a long wait for electricity connection among community members.

Sailence said Chipopoma Power finally switched its lights on 25 August 2021, a development that brought untold joy among people in Mkandapasi, Chikontha Mlankhanthira and the other 13 villages.

Principal Group Village Head (PGVH) Mkandapasi could not his joy when officials from the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) visited the project on Wednesday.

“This project has removed the insult we used to have for living next to power lines, yet far from its lights. Chipopoma Power has transformed this village into a fully-fledged town,” he bemused.

Following the commissioning of the mini-grid, there have been a sudden emergence of businesses at Manchewe Trading Centre.

Among the notable ones include a bakery, restaurant and tailoring and designing school.

By the time MERA officials were inspecting the transmission lines and powerhouse, men were digging foundation for an electrified Carpentry and Joinery Workshop outside Mtendere Homecraft Foundation building, which also houses the bakery, restaurant and tailoring and designing school.

Seventeen-year-old Lucy Chinula said the coming of electricity will not only motivate school-going children to work hard in school, but also offer various social and economic opportunities to others who might have failed to advance their education due to various factors.

“I am one of the school dropouts in this area. I dropped out because of lack of fees and now I am here pursuing a career in tailoring and designing. I am very upbeat that this will be my pathway to financial breakthrough,” said Lucy as she beamed with joy.

According to Sailence, 75 houses have already been connected to the mini-grid plus one maize mill.

“We expect to connect more people customers soon,” he said.

However, MERA Public Relations Manager Fitina Khonje warned Chipopoma Power against using short-cuts when connecting customers to the grid, stressing that doing so would put lives of many people are risk.

Khonje said the Authority visited the project to monitor the progress of the project before it can grant an operating license.

MERA is mandated to regulate the energy sector and license energy undertakings as defined in Section 9of the Energy Regulation Act 2004.

This includes licensing of energy undertakings, approving tariffs, and prices of energy sales and services; monitoring and enforcing compliance by licensees with licences and developing and enforcing performance and safety standards for energy exploitation, production transportation and distribution.

The Authority is also mandated to prescribe and collect fees, charges, levies or rates, arbitrate commercial disputes, resolve and mediate consumer complaints against licensees.

Khonje expressed satisfaction with the progress of the project. However, she stated that Chipopoma Power will have meet some standards to qualify for the awarding of the license.

Consumers complained that they are facing challenges to buy and load electricity units.

Khonje promised that MERA would help Chipopoma Power in addressing this problem.

“This project is just new. So, you should expect some challenges along the way. But this should not frustrate you; keep on supporting the project,” she emphasized.

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