After Mulanje, we set off to the rather un-African sounding village of Luchenza. In Casa Rossa, we’d met a Dutch couple. The guy had worked in an entrepreneurial college, the Green Malata, for kids from the local orphanage. After 16, they get booted out of the orphanage and this college was set up by a Dutch lady to give them increased skills. The ones on offer were baking, needlework, welding, IT and renewable energy (Bio gas, solar and wind power). They had some problems with the home made wind turbine they’d made from plans available from the internet and also with a battery charging station and, Gareth being an engineer, we offered to see if we could help. We rocked up on the Thursday afternoon and had a tour around. It was a fantastic place, only a few years old and a really nice environment. We were told briefly about their problems: when the wind was too great, they were cooking batteries because they didn’t have some form of regulator on the output and some of the battery packs that they rent out (cheaply) to local villagers to power phones and LED lights weren’t working. We were given the plans for the turbine and took it away for some bedtime reading.
We were told we could camp about 1km away in the grounds of a building where some of the girls were making re-usable sanitary towels. The grounds also turned out to be the local football and netball pitch for the village. We turned up and the guys from Green Malata pointed for us to park on the pitch whilst netball practice was going on! The girls weren’t hanging back during training with some of them falling over trying hard to get the ball from the opponents. We were surrounded by kids, all staring and smiling.
The two guys at the back are from Green Malata
The local boys’ football team kitted up
It was a relatively uneventful night after the women took the kids away, and in the morning we went back to the college. First the battery charging system. There didn’t seem to be a systematic approach to the whole stock control and testing. Some of the batteries were tested using a battery charger, some were dead and some ok. The OK ones left only the charging circuit as the problem. The units were supplied by a Scottish company and we drafted a letter to them asking questions about what they could supply to help diagnose the problems. On the wind turbine problems, we tried to get the guys to say what was wrong and to get them to explore any possible solutions. Unfortunately the way the education system seems to work over here is the kids are told what to do to solve a problem, not to think logically about problem solving, so they quickly switched off and wanted to know what the answer was. It was a bit frustrating.
A doctor, and pretty good engineer as well, was helping out and he’d already had ideas about how to solve the wind turbine spinning too fast – by means of a mechanical system, which might be more Africa-proof then an electrical solution. It was a shame they hadn’t explained that these ideas were already being looked into before we started going down one avenue…
Without staying for several weeks to help them sort out a more systematic process which might help them diagnose any problems, we left our ideas on this for them to follow up and headed into town to buy some footballs. We bought one for the girls for netball and one for the football team. It was a bit embarrassing handing them over as the Green Malata guys made a bit of a deal of it and some bigger guys turned up (obviously worse for wear on a Friday afternoon) wanting their own present. The deal was, the security guard at the building would hold them for the netball and football teams and only for them. The kids’ faces were a picture and there was lots of excitement with the balls and also the pencils we’d brought out with us.
We headed to Blantyre for the night in the hope of finding somewhere to watch the 6 Nations rugby that weekend. It was a bit late when we left the kids and breaking all the rules again travelled in the dark to reach the town. Fortunately Angela spent most of the journey with her head in the guide book trying to find a place for the night. This was a good thing as, from what Gareth says, she wouldn’t have wanted to see the carnage of people and crazy traffic on the dark roads…. The first place we looked at had a guard that was drunk or stoned or both and he put us onto the ‘reception’ guy who was the same. Fortunately he said there was no room available, so with a sigh of relief we headed further afield. We eventually found a hotel and checked in. Not the most salubrious and at $50 for the room, a bit of a rip off. But Blantyre is a large city and we took it on the chin and vowed to get out of town and head north to Cape Maclear to spend some time chilling. Just maybe we could find somewhere there to watch the rugby too.