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Chunga camp residents ‘celebrate’ 200kw solar mini grid project

LOCATED in the Kafue National Park about 350 kilometres west of Lusaka in Mumbwa district, Chunga Camp accommodates the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, whose officers have formed a community of over 450 households.
Their way of life demands a lot of discipline as their movements are confined to a clearly defined radius.
Everything, including answering the call of nature, is done within their homes the moment it gets dark as one can only see five metres away.
‘Trespassing’ or trying to leave their homes would mean risking an attack by a lion, a hyena or any other one of the wild animals that are always marauding around their settlement.
One may wonder where they get their food and water knowing that their movements are limited by the presence of fierce animals in their community.
Chunga residents said they get most of their basic needs from Mumbwa town.
Their wish is to be buying everything at once and store part of it in fridges, but lack of electricity has made that remain a mere dream.
They make use of any available vehicle heading to Mumbwa town to do their shopping, which disadvantages those who do not have their own.
Fetching water from the nearest source being the Kafue River was a challenge because they were being attacked by water-based creatures such as crocodiles.
But their situation improved after Chunga Primary Boarding School management bought a small pump that brought water closer to their homes.
One of the residents and care-taker of the school, Collins Mwala, explained that life is hard in the area, especially in the night because of the absence of electricity.
“Bringing power to this community will improve our livelihood because we will be able to move in the night and won’t have to endure a lot of smoke when cooking,” he said.
More concerned about the pupils, Mr Mwala said it will be easy for the children to study if power is supplied to the community.
Chunga Primary Boarding School is a government institution that accommodates pupils from across the country from grades two to nine.
One may wonder why a parent would live all the ‘good’ schools in Lusaka, for example, and take their child to a place where they will be at risk of being attacked by wild animals.
A good number of pupils at the school is actually from towns like Lusaka and Ndola.
A grade eight pupil, Luyando Chuma, who lives in Lusaka said the school promotes quality education but that the only disadvantage is that they cannot go out in the night.
“We use dishes to answer the call of nature and cannot study in the night unless you have a torch. I don’t want to leave the school, all I want is electricity to be supplied to us,” he said.
Most of the pupils said their parents sent them to the school so that they can work hard knowing that their movements are limited.
Indeed “one man’s cup of poison is another’s cup of tea’.
The pupils carry dishes to serve as ‘toilets’ in the night and make sure they study during the day in that they cannot move from the dormitories to their classrooms for prep.
Their level of discipline is so high that they do not leave class anyhow and only go to the playground at the permission of their teachers. This is because they share it with elephants, which use it as a stopover station.
Some teachers who felt condemned when sent to the school had to adjust and accept the new way of life.
A number of them have generator sets for lighting and entertainment, but there is still a challenge when diesel or batteries run out.
However, neither the pupils nor the residents want to leave the place. They do not mind the ever-looming conflict with the wild inhabitants of the area. All they want is electricity.
They feel electricity will help the animals know their boundaries and allow the residents make limited movements in the night.
That is why it was a dream-come-true when they learnt that the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) has come to their aid by at least providing them with solar power.
REA identified Chunga as a project site for the implementation of a 200KW solar power mini grid.
This is in line with REA’s strategic plan 2014 to 2018 under strategic focus two (ASF2), which aims at increasing access to electricity in rural areas.
The parastatal organisation has identified the promotion of solar energy as one of its strategies to attain its mandate.
The people of Chunga could not hide their joy when REA technical services director Patrick Mubanga awarded a contract to Astor Investment to begin the construction of the K2.8 million solar mini-grid.
Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Chunga Primary Boarding School workers danced to what they termed “a long-awaited miracle”.
Mr Mubanga later explained to the residents that the proposed 200KW Chunga solar mini grid project includes both civil and electrical works. He told them that the scope of works for the civil component of the project includes but not limited to geotechnical investigations of the project area in order to ascertain the suitable type of foundation for the civil structures.
The residents, however, looked dismayed when Mr Mubanga told them the civil works alone would take 32 weeks.
Some grade nine pupils also expressed disappointment upon realising that power supply will be effected in 2017 knowing that will leave the school without having a “taste of the gift” the government, through REA, is giving Chunga.
However, Mr Mubanga made them understand that the project will take a bit of time to be completed because there is need to build a power house to house the control room, batteries, control equipment and storage for acute spares.
But Chunga residents were even happier when they were told that they will not be experiencing load shedding with this kind of power supply.
Mr Mubanga explained that the residents will be charged a certain amount that will be determined by the Energy Regulation Board (ERB).
The initiative by REA will not only provide power to the community but also provide employment to the jobless citizens thought out the life of the project.