A silver lining to the El Nino drought

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Ha 'Meta Village after the Rural Solar Electrification Pilot Project championed by LHDA

Ha ‘Meta Village after the Rural Solar Electrification Pilot Project championed by LHDA

Pascalinah Kabi

SEVENTEENTH century English poet and civil servant John Milton is credited with coining the phrase “silver lining” which was eventually developed into the saying “every cloud has a silver lining”.

This simply means that every bad situation has some good aspect to it and the proverb is said as an encouragement to a person who is overcome by some difficulty and unable to see any positive way forward.

While it is highly unlikely that small-scale farmer ‘Manyeoe Khothe from Mokhotlong ever heard of Milton or the proverb, it certainly aptly describes what she went through as well as her present circumstances.

During a recent visit by this publication to her village in Ha ‘Meta, she was all smiles as she pressed the electric button on her one-roomed house.

“I used to spend M150 every fortnight for 20 litres of paraffin for lighting and cooking and when there was no money to buy paraffin, we used candles or slept early,” she said.

The 50-year old small-scale farmer and mother of two is one of the beneficiaries of the Rural Solar Electrification Pilot Project by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).

The project has certainly brought a cheaper, cleaner source of energy as well as hopes for a better life but it was not always this good for Ms Khothe.

Not long ago, she was one of many Basotho that were rendered hopeless and helpless by the effects of the El-Nino induced drought that ravaged the country.

The heat literally sucked the life out of the crops leaving behind a trail of parched fields and dead animals, rendering them unable to obtain money to buy the basic necessities for their family.

“I used to produce a lot and sell some of my yields. But due to lack of rain and excessive heat, the production went down and I struggled to raise money for paraffin or candle for lighting in the night,” Ms Khothe said of her travails.

And when her child came home one January afternoon with a cracked nose due to sunburn, her cup of suffering appeared to be brimming over.

“I felt helpless as I did not know how to help him,” she recalled in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times.

She had certainly reached the nadir and hers became the supreme cynicism which induced a laugh of bitterness and disbelief when it was whispered into her ear that the LHDA planned to build them a Rural Solar Electrification Project.

This was part of a livelihood restoration programme for communities affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWA) Phase II.

She refused to believe it even after the LHDA facilitated a study trip to India for two women from the beneficiary villages of Ha ‘Meta and Moeaneng to undergo a six-week Solar Engineering course last year.

The women were tasked to learn as much as they could from the Barefoot College in India. They were also told they would be expected to electrify their villages and impart the knowledge to fellow villagers.

“I thought it was one of the many lies by different authorities from Maseru who come to raise our hopes for nothing,” she said.

And who could blame her for being a Doubting Thomas when there were so many stories from so many quarters about the authority failing to make good on its promises of offering an alternative lifeline after the disruption of their livelihoods by the project.

Even when fellow villager  ‘Makhothatso Setemere returned from India ready to electrify her home, Ms Khothe decided to adopt a wait and see attitude.

“I only started believing that I would have access to electricity after each family was asked to contribute M10 each for the monthly subscription. By this time the authority had already built an office for the electricity equipment’s safekeeping.

“After a while we were asked to pay M120 each for the electrification and I paid without any hesitation, seeing that we were going to benefit from the heat which I hated so much,” Ms Khothe said.

LHDA delivered and today, Ms Khothe is grateful for the solar energy she says has saved her family from a possible fire outbreaks as there have been incidences of houses burning down in Ha ‘Meta due to lighted candles.

“I am a happy mother and my children can now do their school work without having to worry about wasting paraffin or candle. In a case where they fall asleep while reading, there is no fear of fire.”

Thirty eight-year-old electrician Ms Setemere was just as pleased although she said they did not have an easy time in India.

“We were just ordinary Basotho women barely able to communicate in English and there was a language barrier. But the lecturers were so patient with us and started by teaching us about the equipment and tools,” Ms Setemere said.

The mother of three said she started electrifying Ha ‘Meta in January 2016, describing it a “fulfilling experience” to help fellow villagers.

“Nobody or anything can ever take away this service from us. We are already saving to buy more equipment in future,” she said, adding she had trained other villagers to continue the work.

Another beneficiary, Ntsoaki Lesiea (27) said the project came at an opportune time for her family.

“I have three children, the youngest being two months old. The first two’s nursing times were the hardest because it was inconvenient to wake up at least four times every night to light the candle and nurse them,” Ms Lesiea said.

“This is the first time I am enjoying nursing as I leave the light on all night and do not have to get out of bed to change my baby or feed her.”

She reckoned that the Rural Solar Electrification Pilot Project was benefitting women more than anyone else as they were the think tanks in their families.

LHDA Community Participation Officer Koali Hlasoa said the two villages were selected to pilot the project out of the 17 that were affected by the LHWP Phase II which will result in the construction of the Polihali Dam to store and transfer water to South Africa.

He said the two villages has had access to electricity generated from the solar energy throughout, even during snowfall.

Mr Hlasoa also indicated that to be eligible for training in India, the women had to be aged 30 to 35 years and possess basic education qualifications.

For his part, Polihali Operations Manager Gerard Mokone said the authority decided to pilot the project after realising that majority of rural people could not afford to buy electricity from the national grid.

He said the project responded to the authority’s women empowerment programme and helped hundreds of children to perform better in school by enabling them to study at night.

There is, after all, a silver lining even to the devastating heat.

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