Reaping rural rewards

Zodwa Lubisi provides a living example of how social responsibility projects can help women in rural areas. 

The deputy principal at Tongaview Primary School, based in rural Kwalugedlane, Mpumalanga, and four of her pupils won two prestigious prizes recently for developing an energy-saving project that makes a real difference to the lives of women in their area.

In March their Syngas Stove project won the Innovation Prize in the 2015 African Energy Awards, for providing a new, practical solution to growing energy demands. Late last year their project also won an eta Award in the Young Designers category.

“In rural areas women have to make sure that there is always food on the table, they have to go far to get water and wood, they have to cook,” Lubisi says. 

Using metal drums acquired from scrap metal dealers, the group designed an energy-efficient stove fuelled by briquettes made of discarded maize porridge and soaked cardboard. Their design means that 5kg of wood, combined with the briquettes, provides an hour of cooking time, burning far less fuel than was used previously. 

“Sometimes the women have to buy wood and pay for the transport to get it, which is expensive, so this money can be used for something else. The stove also saves time for them as they use easily available resources such as paper and cardboard boxes.” 

Wood is the primary cooking fuel for more than 400 schools in Mpumalanga, which provide meals for pupils, but it’s energy inefficient and produces unhealthy emissions.

The stove also has health benefits: “There will be no red eyes and painful chests from the smoke.” The ashes can be used as fertiliser in vegetable gardens.

Lubisi and codeveloper Louise Williamson are in the process of producing Syngas Stoves for wider application. 

Their original design was developed with the Energy and Sustainability Programme, sponsored by Eskom and the Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa, a corporate-nongovernmental organisation partnership that provides education for sustainable development.

“Although the project is not fully implemented, it will involve more women so that they can gain skills,” she says.

Lubisi is a dedicated teacher, and believes much can be done to improve pupils’ learning experiences. Overcrowding in classrooms has to be dealt with, she says: “It makes it difficult to do individualisation: identification of skills, potential and talents is not easy.” 

The parents and school governing body at her school have taken matters into their own hands, building four extra classrooms, although two still need roofing. 

Lubisi is conscious of the impact of technology, even in a rural area such as hers, on how children learn, and the need for teachers to take an active role in countering this influence. “Pupils are not as active in extramural and cocurricular activities as we were.” 

She is sensitive to the fact that many pupils have parents who are themselves illiterate and young. “Some did not even reach higher grades, which makes it impossible for them to help their kids with homework. 

“I make sure that I explain what is expected thoroughly, so that when they reach home they will be able to do it themselves, or else I let them do homework in class. We encourage parents to study at adult basic education and training [colleges], but most of them are not willing.”

Lubisi is concerned about the trend to blame teachers, saying they’re not working hard enough. “Really, they are doing their best. 

“I know the conditions they are working in, I know how it feels to teach 75-90 pupils in one class —think of all the marking. As a teacher and a deputy principal, I try by all means [available] to motivate them, to bring back the love and passion for this profession,” she says.

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