The Project 90 team has been engaging actively with the Msobomvu community for a little over six months now, and the careful, attentive exploration of the context and the nature of our partnership that characterised the initial workshops are starting to bear fruit. The core focus of our work there revolves around energy and water security. This work forms part of our Community Partnership Programme, and given that we are in the process of developing our guiding methodology for this programme: Participatory Community Engagement (PCE), we are mindful of the need to go carefully and write up our experiences every step of the way.
While we are focusing on the practical work of the partnership, we also seek to address community capacity building so that dependence on us is avoided. This has taken form in a number of ways, helping community members to understand the roles and responsibilities of local government, identifying skills within the community that can serve the community’s interests and needs, facilitating the development of community driven projects and action plans and promoting self-organisation around community priorities.
This work has led to residents having a greater understanding of how to work with local government to access services, but more importantly it has led to the community developing their own goal-driven plans around small scale agriculture, healthcare, schooling, sports and water management behind which they are the primary drivers. Our challenge is to find ways to support their initiatives in ways that ownership of outcomes remains firmly in their hands.
We have spent a good deal of time trying to understand actions we could collectively take that would help the most to promote energy and water security in the village. At the first decision-making milestone around technology the community chose to focus more on energy issues as they felt they could manage the water situation well enough on their own for the time being. The greatest energy needs identified by residents were: cooking and lighting. We agreed on a phased approach where simple technologies would first be introduced ((Wonderbags and rocket stoves for fuel efficient cooking), and later solar photo-voltaic kits for lighting – what we call Lightboxes would be installed in each home. The Lightboxes consist of three LED bulbs, a fire-retardant and water resistant protective case for the battery and other components, a few metres of cable and a car charger outlet.
The initial technologies were introduced over the course of four days at the end of November 2012. This involved our chartering an overland truck to transport us and the equipment the 1200 kilometres to Msobomvu, camping in the village and working with community leaders on a plan for getting the equipment into people’s hands in a fair and orderly way. This was important as we needed to make sure that we had a streamlined process by the time we got to the Lightbox roll-out phase as the last thing we want is our input to result in community conflict.
The Lightbox implementation trip took place in the middle of January 2013. In conversation with the community it was agreed that assembly of the units would take place in the village and an appointed task team would arrange fair and smooth dissemination to all homesteads. The community rose to the challenge superbly and a group of 10 volunteers from the village took care of Lightbox assembly, and two young women made sure that the handover to each household went smoothly.
There are now 10 people in the Village of Msobomvu who know the systems well enough to be able to do basic repairs if needed.
For most of the people in this village this is the first time they have ever had lighting that is not reliant on access to candles or paraffin. We return to Msobomvu at the end of March to get an update on community projects, to continue our work on capacity building and to pick up the conversation around interventions that can promote water security.
Gray Maguire – Community Engagement Facilitator