The IoS Christmas Appeal: Ingenuity and a few resources can change a child's future

Raymond Whitaker on micro-hydro power which is transforming remote communities

"When I complete my education, I am going to be a lawyer," says 11-year-old Madeline Bofu. She speaks with passion and conviction, but the obstacles she faces are formidable.

Madeline lives in eastern Zimbabwe, a country where years of turmoil and economic collapse have crippled the education system. Her primary school in Chipendeke has seen its results plummet. The pass rate at grade seven, the national examination to go on to high school, fell from 12 per cent to 2 per cent between 2007 and 2009 – hardly surprising when barely 30 of the 429 pupils have textbooks, pens or exercise books.

Since only the highest fliers stand any chance of going to university, Madeline has to be consistently in the top three all the way through school, and has achieved that with ease so far. But she knows that to become a lawyer, "I need to study harder and read more". That, however, is easier said than done.

Madeline's parents are subsistence farmers, who need her to work after school. And when the sun goes down, her family, like nearly one-third of the world's population, are plunged into darkness, because they have no electricity. The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where four out of every five families have no power supply. A candle would allow the pupil to study for three hours at night, but at $2 (£1.30) each, they are too expensive for a family as poor as the Bofus.

The situation might appear hopeless were it not for Practical Action, the charity being backed by The Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal. It has designed "micro-hydro" systems that can generate electricity for communities as small as 3,000 people. Madeline is fortunate enough to live in Zimbabwe's eastern highlands, one part of the country that has constantly flowing rivers and streams, and Chipendeke's mountainous terrain made it suitable for one of Practical Action's small generating plants.

Water is channelled from a weir through a settling basin, which removes sediment that could harm the turbine. From there it flows along a gently sloping channel to a tank, which is directly above the power house. The water rushes downhill through a pipe called a penstock, driving a specially designed turbine to produce electricity.

Unlike traditional power stations that use fossil fuels, micro-hydro generators have practically no effect on the environment. In fact, micro-hydro has a beneficial effect on the local environment, because it reduces the need to cut down trees for firewood and increases farming efficiency.

The arrival of electricity will not merely help Madeline to study: it will transform lives in Chipendeke. "Our clinic will be able to treat people at night and store medicines," said Irene Saurohwe, a farmer's wife with two young daughters. "The biggest problem is with women who give birth or have miscarriages at night. If you go to the clinic at night you have to take your own candles or lamp, but a candle doesn't always last for the whole labour, and you can't see well."

Alternative means of lighting, such as kerosene lamps, are themselves a health hazard. "There is too much smoke," said Ivy Makowa, another local woman. "If you use [a kerosene lamp] one night, the next day you feel you have flu. It causes coughs, bad lungs and other problems. For lighting we even use dried grass, which is also full of smoke."

Freed of the need to search for firewood to cook, villagers will be able to use their time more productively. Some hope to grow more crops, and buy refrigerators to keep their produce in the best condition for market. In other communities where Practical Action has built micro-hydro plants, they have spawned new businesses, such as small workshops and maize-grinding enterprises. This would boost education as well, according to Misheck Mukahanana, deputy headmaster of Madeline's primary school, because "pupils lose the desire to study hard when they see their elder siblings without work after completing school".

Micro-hydro systems are designed to operate for at least 20 years. The charity trains local people to build and maintain their own system. And by making a small charge for use, communities can accumulate enough money to pay for the replacement of the unit at the end of its useful life.

Practical Action is in the midst of a project to build nine new micro-hydro systems in Zimbabwe, and to repair six existing ones. Can you help raise the money? Your generosity will help more than 45,000 poor people in one of the remotest areas of a country that has suffered greatly in recent years.

What your money can buy in Zimbabwe

You could help transform poor families' lives. So, please, give whatever you can to help lift more people out of poverty today.

£64 would buy four rechargeable batteries to power homes

£220 could connect 10 houses to the micro-hydro power supply

£480 covers one month's support from an electrical engineer

£1,000 pays for internal wiring for a school or health clinic

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE IOS APPEAL

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Live Virtual Training / Events

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Manager is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003