A solar panel installed by WFP at Chibengelele Community School in Chongwe, near Lusaka. Copyright: WFP/Michelle Hunsberger
Chibengelele School in Chongwe, Zambia, is an example of the positive results that can be achieved when a dedicated community and visionary school authorities work together. A beneficiary of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) pilot solar lighting programme, the school has flourished into an innovative and environmentally concerned leader in the community.
Chibengelele School first started in 2000 underneath a tree on the Great East Road, one of the main highways out of Lusaka. The first 49 pupils were taught using Interactive Radio Instruction Programmes available on local radio.
Chibengelele began its relationship with WFP in 2003, when it became one of the first schools to benefit from WFP’s school feeding programme. Since then, the school has also received fuel efficient stoves and most recently, solar lighting equipment.
The solar lighting project, initially installed primarily for environmental reasons, has produced significant social benefits too. Because of the new lighting, Chibengelele has been able to extend its services to include evening adult literacy classes and afterschool study hours for students attending the school. Given this, students and teachers from surrounding schools have also begun accessing the classrooms.
“Solar panels have changed the face of this place, not just for the students but for the parents and community as well,” says headteacher Coillard Tembo.
Mr. Tembo added that the extra hours of light allow him and other teachers to work later in the day, permitting for more time to complete lesson plans and other preparations outside teaching hours.
The school has over the years made vast improvements on many fronts thanks to WFP assistance and community initiatives. Chibengelele secured its current location in 2004 after meeting with local headmen who donated 5.6 hectares to the school. In 2006, they were able to upgrade from a brick and thatched structure to a larger and sturdier building from funds raised during WFP’s annual Walk the World event.
Asked about the community’s response to the school’s new addition, Mr. Tembo said “it’s been overwhelming and they are very happy.”
Exemplary of how the community has taken it upon themselves to ensure the progress of the school, the headteacher has begun to spend nights at the school in order to guarantee the safety of the solar equipment. As a result, the community plans to employ a guard to safeguard the property as well as build a house for the head teacher on school grounds for easier monitoring.
Furthermore, the community has taken on a number of other environmental initiatives. Plans are underway to expand the school garden to include maize, groundnuts, and pigeon peas, and the school’s wood lot has grown to include over 140 trees.
The installation of the solar panel has also opened the doors for other opportunities. The headteacher happily shared that he can now on occasion bring in his Television set to let students watch local educational programmes. The school has also received an offer from an internet service provider to begin Information Technology classes.
The synergy created between WFP and the Chibengelele community exemplifies how assistance can serve to mobilize a community and bring awareness about environmental issues to children.