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Solora sends the manna of the 21st century to Malawi

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

by Jasper Vekeman

Four students from Ghent are going to install a solar power system this summer at the project of the Belgian nonprofit organization Chabwino in Malawi, thanks to the support of Solora. "Solar energy is a fantastic technology. It's great that we can enable people in Malawi to benefit from it," says the manager of solar parks. "It's the manna of the 21st century. It's electricity that simply falls from the sky," enthusiastically explains Tim Weyens about solar energy. With Solora, the CEO specializes in the maintenance and optimization of large solar parks. And thanks to Solora, farmers and schoolchildren from nine villages in Malawi will also be able to benefit from this manna. However, that manna doesn't literally fall from the sky. Four dedicated students from Ghent University will spend ten weeks in Malawi this summer. Hanne (industrial engineer, 22 years old), Manon (Business Engineer, 23 years old), David (Bioengineer, 21 years old), and Bram (industrial engineer, 24 years old) are volunteering for Humasol, a Belgian NGO that focuses on access to sustainable technology. In Malawi, they will work at Chabwino, a Belgian fourth pillar project that has been dedicated to sustainable development in the region around the city of Zomba for over ten years. Chabwino organizes a food bank in nine villages, with 60 farmers participating. Through this initiative, 180 poor individuals receive extra food during the rainy season, locally known as the hunger season when the need is greatest. The farmers who contribute a portion of their harvest receive fertilizers and seedlings in return. The food bank strengthens local solidarity and makes the community more self-reliant. Chabwino has also established a school that provides education and a warm meal to 164 young children this year. The Belgian nonprofit organization also organizes projects on adult education, entrepreneurship, agricultural sustainability, and tree planting, among others. The major challenge in the region, which is already heavily affected by climate change and was recently struck by a cyclone, is the lack of electricity. "Our main project, therefore, is the construction of a solar installation and large electric stoves for preparing meals for the schoolchildren," says Manon.

Knowledge Transfer

The entire project received a significant boost thanks to Solora's assistance. In the spring, the students were given the opportunity to present their ideas for the first time. They immediately received a lot of tips. An extensive tour of the facilities also revealed that all the necessary materials for the project were readily available. Nothing stood in the way of a successful partnership between Solora and Chabwino. "We were received very kindly, and Tim was also very open to sharing information with us," reflects Hanne. The demonstration of how Solora remotely and in real-time monitors solar parks immediately inspired the students. The cutting-edge system is only suitable for large and high-tech installations that Solora specializes in. However, the students have their own alternative to remotely monitor 'their' installation. For Bram, the tour was a valuable experience. "The willingness to share expertise and guide us was tremendous," he says. In turn, the students will transfer knowledge to the local population and Chabwino's staff in Malawi. Bram explains, "That is a crucial part of our mission. We want to install the system together and demonstrate everything about maintenance. And we will teach them a lot about the benefits that solar energy offers, such as the fact that electric cooking is much better for health and conserves scarce resources compared to cooking on wood fires."

At Solora, they also attach great importance to knowledge transfer. "Before we support a project, we have to believe in it," Tim explains. "It would be a shame if an installation were to be lost almost immediately because it is being used as a clothes rack. In this project, the students will be on-site for ten weeks. They will take their time, and that is also very important."


Just three months later, the students proudly pose in the offices of Solora, each holding a solar panel in their hands. The photo immortalizes the moment when Solora donates a solar installation, marking the beginning of its long journey. A large wooden crate is first transported by truck to the port, where a shipment awaits, bound for Malawi. Inside the crate are 20 solar panels and all the necessary wiring, everything for a project that can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people.

The entire setup is a beautiful example of how much can be achieved with creativity and inventiveness, combined with enthusiasm and goodwill. And it just so happens that this is the mix embodied by the four students. They made the transport crate themselves using pallets and discarded wood. Their engineering studies have rarely been so useful.

"It took us a lot of blood, sweat, and almost no tears," Hanna laughs, reminiscing about the day of tinkering in Solora's warehouses. "We started from scratch and were allowed to use all their materials for free. The people from Solora even came to help us. That shows how well the collaboration went."

The solar panels themselves also get a second life. Technology is advancing rapidly, which means that some panels are replaced even if they are not worn out. This allows Solora to recover more and more panels. "In principle, they are good for 20 to 30 years. So, they can still produce for a long time," Tim knows. He predicts that a lively second-hand market will emerge in the long run. And such panels can make a big difference in a country like Malawi. "The basic technology doesn't change much. It's very simple and ideal for Africa," he explains.


While the installation has set sail, the real adventure for the four brave students begins in July. "I have never been to Africa before. It will certainly be a great way to get to know the country and its people," Manon looks ahead. "I am particularly excited to be able to do something practical. At the university, we mainly learn theory, but now we will see what we are really capable of."

It won't be easy because the challenges in Malawi are immense. However, the students can count on additional support from Solora. "We have been told multiple times that we can always call if we encounter any problems with the installation. That reassures us," Bram says. From his perspective, Tim is quite confident: "I have seen very motivated young people who are eager to successfully complete an adventure. We find it important to be able to support them in that."

Tim won't give a lofty statement about Solora's role: "A true social mission? We don't have time for that. We are too much victims of the rapid transition we have to make," he laughs. Nevertheless, Solora has made a significant difference in setting up this project. "Solar energy is fantastic technology. It's wonderful that we can also allow the people in Malawi to benefit from it," he concludes.


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