Energy poverty is a thing of the past for approximately 130 households in the informal settlement in Zandspruit, west of Johannesburg. Schneider Electric South Africa recently provided close to 130 solar systems to light up the lives of community members, and provided training to residents in the installation thereof.
A global specialist in energy management and automation, Schneider Electric South Africa believes that everyone, particularly those living in energy poverty areas such as Zandspruit, has the right to safe energy.
In their commitment to ensuring that ‘Life is On’ for everyone, everywhere and at every moment, Schneider Electric South Africa has worked to empower the community through a partnership with Zandspruit Emthonjeni Community Centre since 2014. Emthonjeni – meaning ‘fountain’ – has operated since 2002, doing so without government funding. It is a beacon of hope for residents, offering multiple community services, maintaining and growing food gardens as well as providing meals to those in need.
For Schneider Electric South Africa, Emthonjeni was a natural choice for support, as the two share the common goal of sustainable development and solutions. The relationship began four years ago, when the lack of electricity in the area was highlighted in the media. ‘Our focus is on access to education in communities in need of skills development, and access to energy in areas without electricity,’ says Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa head of sustainable development, Zanelle Dalglish. ‘Access to both education and energy is a basic human right that powers a community’s ability to flourish educationally and economically. With Emthonjeni, we were able to partner to address both of these community needs.
Solar solutions have been implemented as soon as the need had been identified in 2014; the Schneider Electric team helping to prepare 600 breakfasts and lunches for the community’s youngest members on Mandela Day that year, and also contributing a variety of vegetables and herbs to boost the community’s income-generating food garden.
Coordinator Evelyn Dikeledi Gouwe couldn’t be more appreciative. ‘With partners such as Schneider Electric, we can conquer many of the capacity challenges we face,’ she said.
Adds Dalglish: ‘It was immediately apparent that the community’s lack of access to electricity affected every other aspect of residents’ lives, particularly younger members who’s ability to learn was severely impacted.
‘We have spent much time getting to know community members and understanding their needs to ascertain how our dual approach of energy and education could make the most tangible difference to lives. Emthonjeni and those it serves are now very close to our hearts.’
The ‘Light-up Zandspruit’ project that gave power to approximately 130 households and equipped community members with new knowledge and skills through training, effectively changed the lives of about 1 000 residents.
Zandspruit elders – the mainstay of the community – were the first to benefit, as many have lived without electricity for years, says Gouwe. The initiative also ensured access to education to youngsters, who had been unable to study at night, which hampered their performance in the classroom. Some chose to use candles, but these cause many devastating informal settlement fires.
The Zandspruit community is all-too familiar with the destruction wreaked by fire. ‘Every burning shack is a family that has lost everything,’ said Gouwe. ‘While I wish that everyone could have electricity, the solar lights are, at least, safe.’
For 12-year-old Hlayisani Moila, the tragedy of fire really hit home in early 2017, when her parents’ home was one of the 20 razed to the ground when a fire spread from another structure.
The incident occurred just after Schneider Electric had donated uniforms, shoes and stationery for the Emthonjeni swop-shop to equip pupils for the new school year, ensuring that their access to education was not interrupted by self-consciousness at not fitting in, and that they would be free – having the right attire and equipment – to concentrate fully on their studies.
‘As I approached home, I could see that many houses were on fire,’ said Moila. ‘My dad was throwing water on the flames, but it didn’t help. Everything in our house was burning and my dad was crying because his money and ID book were in the house.’
Fortunately, Moila’s parents were able to go to the swop-shop, where they traded their recyclables for a new uniform and shoes for their daughter. ‘My dad was so proud that day,’ she says. ‘He took photos of me in my new uniform. I want to continue to make him proud by doing well at school so that I can become a nurse and take care of him and my mother if they are sick.’
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