NKOLE NKOLE, Petauke
SEVENTY five years is a long time to live without power but for many residents of Kaulu area in the Eastern Province district of Petauke, life minus electricity was a daily reality.
The dark was something they had become accustomed to despite facing many difficulties for not having the option of turning on the light switch at night.
Expectant mothers would carry candles with them at night in readiness for delivery in the dark.
Kaulu’s main health centre, Kalindawalo Community Rural Health Centre, was unable to stock vaccines and therefore, coverage for its immunised children was low.
The maize planted by Kaulufarmers had to be ground at the grinding mill in Petauke and many teachers from Kaulu would run away to various towns, especially Lusaka where different social amenities were readily available.
These scenarios were commonplace in Kaulu for the 75 years the area existed without electricity, so routine that they constituted everyday life.
Headteacher at Kaulu Day Secondary School, Genesis Mbulo, knows exactly the difference electricity has brought to Kaulu.
“We have been operating using a small generator especially for our pupils doing evening prep. The generator, however could not power stoves or the machines we use to print test papers,” Mr Mbulo explained.
He noted how the teachers’ concentration towards work had also improved since their lives were made easier by having electricity.
Although the school was originally a primary school started in 1940 as the largest in Nsengaland at the time, it was later upgraded to a secondary school.
With the upgrading came many requirements but the absence of electricity made meeting those standards particularly difficult.
In February this year, however, Kaulu got electricity for the first time in over half a century, courtesy of the Rural Electrification Authority (REA).
Last week, the authority commissioned its Kaulu and Kanjeza projects in Petauke and Katete districts of Eastern Province.
The project involved construction of 32 kilometres of 33 kilovolts overhead line tapped from an existing line along Great East Road.
The joy of having power was shared by the area’s young and old alike as finally they could turn a light bulb on and even have a television connected.
Immediate beneficiaries of the project in Kaulu included Kaulu Day Secondary School, Kalindawalo Community Rural Health Centre, Chief Kalindawalo’s Palace, Chipembe Rural Health Centre, Mwambezi and Matonje primary schools.
Brenda Mwenda, a home economics teacher at Kaulu Day Secondary School, recalls how life in Kaulu was very tough prior to the area receiving electricity.
“Life was difficult but the coming of power has changed a lot of things for us,” she shared. She then gestured to a colleague who had just returned from grinding meal at a mill that was installed two days prior.
Before the coming of electricity, Ms Mwenda and other Kaulu residents would travel to Petauke town just to have their meal ground.
The difference that electricity has brought can further be witnessed inside the Kaulu Day Secondary School home economics department which Ms Mwenda helps run.
In the 75 years prior to the connection of electricity to the school, pupils learning home economics were taught using either a brazier or any of the two wood stoves belonging to the department.
“This time, we are using the electric stove,” an enthusiastic Ms Mwenda shared. As Kaulu is a rural area, she pointed out how some of her pupils had all their lives not known what an electric cooker looked like.
The challenges of living without power extended to the Kalindawalo Community Rural Health Centre, Kaulu’s main health centre.
“We were unable to stock vaccines from here, so coverage was low for immunised children,” explained nurse-in-charge, Rabson Mwanza.
Whenever the centre received assault cases where suturing was needed, the absence of electricity made dealing with such cases hard.
“There were times when a woman would have tears during delivery and it was difficult to suture, but now it’s different since we have power,” Mr Mwanza shared.
Even with deliveries, coverage was poor without electricity. Now cases are being handled more efficiently because of the power. The centre can also admit patients for observation, which previously was not possible.
The centre attends to approximately 83 patients each day out of the 17,074 people in the Kaulu catchment area and is now admitting patients for observation following the connection of electricity.
Like Kaulu, Kanjeza in Katete district is another area that has benefited from electricity connection through REA. Project works in Kanjeza involved the construction of 29.9 kilometres of 33 kilovolts overhead grid lines from an existing line at Azele Substation.
Kanjeza was one of the 21 projects that REA implemented between 2012 and 2013 and was completed in December 2013.
A lot has changed in Kanjeza since the area began receiving power in June last year.
“It’s something we had cried for, for a long time,” Kanjeza Primary School head teacher Samuel Nkhonjela recollected.
Whenever time came for preparation of end of term examinations, the examination papers had to be typed and printed from Katete. Now, the school has its own printer as well as three desktop computers. Pupils can also study from the school at night.
Mr Nkhonjela was grateful to REA for coming to the rescue of Kanjeza residents as it had previously proved too expensive to have the area electrified through Zesco.
Social studies teacher at Kanjeza Primary School, Westerner Mvula, had adjusted to a life without electricity and resorted to the use of solar panels throughout the day before the area got electricity.
“I am now able to refrigerate my meat products,” Mr Mvula said. “With solar panels, it is not possible to do that.”
The electricity has further reduced the temptation of migrating to the town centre for use of facilities there.
Mr Mvula aptly stated: “Now there is no need to move to the town centre. The town has come to us.”
With the load shedding currently taking place around the country, another dimension has been added to the story of Kanjeza and Kaulu’s electrification.
In Kanjeza, load shedding was happening daily for four-hour periods but now it takes place every eight hours.
Despite the load shedding, the people of Kaulu and Kanjeza are just glad that after so many years of living without electricity, they no longer have to guess their way through the dark and can now share the joys that come from a life with power.