Africa | Something extraordinary is happening at Chinguwo village, Malawi

Africa | Something extraordinary is happening at Chinguwo village, Malawi

MALAWI, February 12, 2024 - Experts say it is impossible, but in the heart of Malawi, amidst the rolling landscapes of rural ChinguwoVillage, in the Traditional Authority of Chiwere, Dowa district, a 19-year-old innovator, Ernest Andrew, is illuminating the path to sustainable energy. 

Andrew, a secondary school dropout, has brought electricity to his community using what experts say is a groundbreaking air-powered generator, bypassing use of fuel, oil or batteries.

With 17.7 million Malawians lacking access to electricity, as reported by the World Bank in 2023, the nation faces a steep climb toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 by 2030. 

Yet, Ernest's groundbreaking initiative is lighting up his community, one home at a time, using the untapped power of air.

“The air fills the bottle where there are wires that produce an electromagnetic field. That magnetic field generates electricity which is transmitted through the cables and the poles to the houses. This electricity, for now, is enough just for lighting,” and Andrew says his generator produces 1,000 volts of electricity.

Energy challenges that engulfed the area prompted Ernest to come up with the innovation to bring solutions to the people.

Ernest dreams of connecting his entire village and school with  his electrical innovation, pointing out that  “If I had enough resources, I could have connected the whole village but I am able to connect with what I have now. My vision is to see Malawi developing and see young people having things to do in their daily life. If they have electricity, they will open up businesses and employ others,” he said.

“I am also working on a generator to pump water at a distance of 200 meters. I am planning to extend the electricity to the school for easy access and study. I will do this,” Ernest added.

Born to a modest family under the guidance of Traditional Authority Msakambewa, Ernest's journey began in a village where the nearest electricity grid lies an inaccessible 3 kilometers away.

Currently, he provides electricity to a few houses near his home, but with the right support, he envisions lighting up over 30 households in his community.

Energy challenges that engulfed the area prompted Ernest to come up with the innovation to bring solutions to the people.

“When I was a little boy, I was more interested in electronics. I used to play with things like bulbs and some electric tools to see if I could find ways to generate power for lighting and other electronics. I did not go to any school for this.

“I noted numerous challenges in my area regarding access to electricity because we are located very far away from Dowa Trading Center. Many people here fail to venture into various businesses such as barber shops because they cannot access electricity.

“Even entertainment, we cannot watch television because of that. That is where my interest to do more in power generation started growing until reaching this far,” Ernest said.

Andrew's mother, Everlyn Chinguwo, says he dropped out of school in 2018 due to a lack of school fees. 

At the heart of innovation lies the ability to challenge conventions and redefine possibilities. This is what Ernest Andrew, an 18-year-old visionary Malawian from Dowa District, is doing: Breaking barriers in the realm of energy generation.At the heart of innovation lies the ability to challenge conventions and redefine possibilities. This is what Ernest Andrew, an 18-year-old visionary Malawian from Dowa District, is doing: Breaking barriers in the realm of energy generation.Despite the absence of the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (Marep) 9's extension to his village, Ernest's ingenuity knows no bounds. "Though faced with a lack of resources, I am determined to connect electricity to a few houses in my village using whatever materials I can find," Ernest asserts, showcasing a resilience that belies his years.

A Community Transformed Ernest's innovative method involves harnessing the electromagnetic field generated by air-filled bottles, transmitting electricity through makeshift cables and poles to power homes. So far, his efforts have electrified seven houses, providing a beacon of hope for a brighter future.

The impact on his community is profound. Ronnex Katela, an 18-year-old student, shares, "I no longer spend money on batteries for lighting. We are able to study for as long as we want." 

This sentiment is echoed by Ernest's mother, Evelyn Chinguwo, who marvels at the transformation. "Previously, we lived in the dark... The money that we used to buy candles and batteries is now being used for other important things."

A Call for Support and Innovation

The potential of Ernest's work has not gone unnoticed. Dowa District Commissioner Stalich Mwambiwa and environmental activist Mathews Malata have both lauded his efforts, recognizing the need for investment and careful examination of his technology. With support, Ernest dreams of expanding his project to power the entire village and beyond.

Recently, he was visited by the Director General of the National Commission for Science Technology Madam Gift A. Kadzamira, who recognized the immense potential in nurturing such talents as Ernest’s. 

The Commission pledged to support his innovation by offering guidance on protecting his creation, exploring financial assistance through the Science and Technology Fund, identifying interested investors, and collaborating with government agencies and private investors to strengthen his capabilities.

While commending Ernest for his ingenuity, it was noted that he requires essential materials to enhance his skills safely, materials like wires, poles, sockets, bulbs, and other materials for connecting power. The Commission aims to assess his requirements and allocate resources where possible.

As Malawi strives toward universal electricity access, Ernest Andrew's story is a testament to the power of human ingenuity and the spirit of resilience. His work not only challenges the status quo but also offers a glimpse into a sustainable energy future, inspiring a nation on its journey to light up every home.

Director General of the National Commission for Science Technology Madam Gift A. Kadzamira, who recognized the immense potential in nurturing such talents as Ernest’s. Director General of the National Commission for Science Technology Madam Gift A. Kadzamira, who recognized the immense potential in nurturing such talents as Ernest’s. Madam Kadzamira has encouraged all young innovators to approach the NCST for support. By identifying and cataloging these talents in a dedicated database and innovation portal, the Commission facilitates potential collaborations with interested investors, she said.

Such initiatives, she highlighted, play a pivotal role in achieving Malawi's 2063 vision for technological advancements. 

He was also visited by the Principal Innovations Officer in the Department of Innovations and Creativity (DIC) Mr. Francis Kulemeka  who said “the Department of Innovations and Creativity is interested to work and promote innovators like Andrew because of their potential to help Malawi realise the Malawi Vision 2063's aspiration of being self-reliant. ” 

According to Kulemeka, besides providing direct funding or technical assistance, DIC supports innovators by linking them to necessary institutions to ensure capacity building, protection of their ideas and also the lives of the beneficiaries.

Conclusion

Ernest Andrew's innovative solution to the electricity challenge in Malawi is more than a story of technical ingenuity; it's a narrative of hope, determination, and the potential of youth-led innovation in addressing global challenges. 

As Malawi and the world watch, the light from Chinguwo Village shines as a beacon, reminding us that sometimes, the brightest ideas come from the most unexpected places.


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