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Pupil power

September 2004

How is wind, solar and pupil power transforming a remote village in southern Africa?

Pupil power

In September 2004, ITV1 broadcast Tom Bradby's film, The Forgotten Kingdom - Prince Harry in Lesotho. The program highlighted the problems of Aids in the country as well as Harry's visit. Next year a group of British school pupils hope to complete a number of communication and conservation projects in one village in Lesotho - one of which will tackle the problem of Aids.

Lesotho is a physically beautiful kingdom of about 1.8 million people within the borders of South Africa. The scale of the disaster HIV and Aids are causing in Lesotho is overwhelming. Official statistics show that a third of the population is infected with HIV, although such is the stigma and ignorance that the real figure is probably much higher. Of the million children in Lesotho 20% are orphans, usually because their parents have died of Aids. Aids is fuelled in Lesotho by ignorance and denial. People think those suffering from Aids are bewitched and ostracise them.

Working with local communities to tackle the Aids pandemic is just one part of an ambitious international communication and conservation project by The City School, Sheffield. In May/June 2005, 35 students joined by those from Royston High School, Barnsley will visit the remote village of Malealea in Lesotho where part of their project will be to provide funding and material for Malealea clinic. The project is an excellent example of small-scale sustainable development project in practice. The aim is to raise £50,000 by May 2005 in order to deliver the following:

What?

Why?

How?

Renewable Energy

To power ICT equipment and lighting for the village

A wind turbine, solar panels & solar cookers

Communications Link

To provide education and communication opportunities

Computer and video conferencing equipment

Environmental Sustainability

To prevent further soil erosion and provide clean water

Saplings and horticultural tools for a tree planting scheme, funding for wells and small scale reservoirs

School/Partnership

To provide educational materials for Malealea High School

Books and equipment for use within the school

Aids Pandemic

To work with the community to tackle massive problem

Funding/materials for Malealea clinic

The project has a good track record of success and aims to build on what it has already delivered.

In 2000 the school's geography teacher, Ken Dunn, visited the village of Malealea in Lesotho. He saw that the village had no electricity and that the local people had to gather wood to provide their power. The cutting of fuel wood leads to deforestation and soil erosion. On his return he set out with his pupils at Royston High School to raise money through a series of fund-raising schemes to buy a wind turbine and solar panels for the village. In May 2003 Royston High School from Barnsley in Yorkshire launched an expedition to send 16 students, four staff, a doctor and a nurse to work on the community project in Malealea, Lesotho. One of the children on the trip, Sarah (aged 15), describes what it felt like when the school lights were switched on for the first time:

'Mr Dunn and the Chief of Malealea village turned on the lights and the emotion in the room was something I have never felt before, the expression on their faces was something I will never forget. I couldn't believe how happy the people were for 3 light bulbs, it made me realise just how lucky we are.'

Additionally, pupils helped to dam a small reservoir in a former donga (erosion scar) to provide clean water for agriculture. The crops grown could then be sold for cash to the local tourist lodge, Malealea Lodge, which has recently won a prestigious responsible tourism award and hosted a visit from Prince Harry! Trees were planted around the reservoir to stabilize the soil (to prevent silting-up) and reduce evaporation. In all, several hundred trees were planted to combat soil erosion. The students also planted fruit trees in the school grounds to provide fresh food to the local school children.

"This is active citizenship and education for sustainable development in practice!” – L McAvan MEP


What are Dongas?

The ecological effect of the sustained and unrelenting cultivation of the Lesotho mountains has been devastating. The soil fertility has plummeted and, more seriously, huge quantities of topsoil are simply washed away with each summer rains, often ending up as silt in the rivers of the Eastern Cape. In many places, so much topsoil has gone that great ravines called dongas have opened up. These, though they often look green enough, in fact tend to be so close to the surface rock that they are useless for serious cultivation.

Assorted quotes from project members:

Amanda (aged 15) describes a favourite memory: "My favourite memory from the expedition happened whilst in Malealea. It was when we arrived at the dam that we were helping the village to dig. As everyone went to collect their spades and wheelbarrows I saw what type of people were already digging. There were women of every age working, women who were over fifity were using heavy pick axes to dig a hole whilst a child of around three picked up handfuls of dirt from the floor and placed it in into the wheelbarrow as she tried to help her mum. At that moment the community spirit of Malealea became more apparent, everyone was determined to work together to improve their village, no matter what age"

"I never thought water was so important before" Claire

"I couldn't believe how much soil was in the rivers - they were black with sediment" Kathleen

"The people of Malealea were fantastic - they made us really welcome. I can't believe that two of the people we were working with have died since we've back. One infant died of diarrhoea and the other from Aids. Somehow our geography lessons on infant mortality and life expectancy have brought on an altogether new meaning" Leanne

For more imformation about this on-going project please contact Ken Dunn at The City School, Tel: 0114 2392571 or directly on: 0114 2358137 or email kd@city.sheffield.sch.uk

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