Electricity is often taken for granted by the Western culture. Yet without it, our day-to-day lives wouldn’t be the same. It controls the small, banal things like charging our phones or streaming music and movies. Yet it also provides the crucial means to living life as we know it, by supplying lighting, heating and refrigeration. Our lives simply wouldn’t be the same without it.

Yet life without electricity is a reality for many people across the globe—1.2 billion people, to be exact. In areas of Africa, such as Malawi, 88.1% of the population are living without it. Two University of Sussex students share what it’s like to grow up with electricity shortages in Africa. Both are involved in project RED, which makes use of renewable energy to help Malawi, a country suffering from drastic electricity shortages.

Hlanganiso Matangaidze, a first year undergraduate student at Sussex, travels to Zimbabwe regularly. He visits his family in Africa every summer, staying in hotels close to home. Every time it’s a similar story. He recounts how the blackouts occur while he was watching TV, or reading under the lamp on his bedside table.

Yet it’s not just the frequent shortages that are a problem (at least they have electricity in the first place); the main issue is that only a very small number of the African population has access to electricity on a day-to-day basis. In certain areas of Africa, such as Malawi, this number is as low as 11.9%. Fouad Oluwatobiloba Amuni, a second year undergraduate student at Sussex University, shares his experience of growing up in a household without any access to electricity.

Memories of his youth in Nigeria include studying under the flickering dim glow of candlelight; “it put me in a disadvantage at school…studying at home certainly wasn’t easy”. With no washing machine or iron, all of his clothes needed to be washed by hand. “As a little kid, these things matter”, he says. “I went to school self-conscious about how I was dressed…worried about how I looked, and whether my shirt was wrinkled. I’d get picked on by others”.

He didn’t experience a childhood dotted with the excitement of favourite cartoons, either: “we had no TV… it was hard to feel connected to the rest of the world. We had no way to be kept up-to-date with current events, no idea about what was going on in the news”.

Hlanganiso and Fouad are members of the RED project at Sussex University, a student-run effort to help the areas of rural Africa with severe electricity shortages. “RED” stands for Renewable Energy Development: using recycled materials, these students aims to provide an alternative, and more worthwhile, source of energy where it is needed the most.

Malawi is their first target. It’s current main source of energy is collected through generators, which can be seen as one of the core roots of the country’s electricity problem. Not only have generators proven to be faulty—they also make use of diesel and petrol oils that result in toxic gases. Hence, they are both inefficient (resulting in regular blackouts) and bad for the environment and the people in it.

The RED project seeks to provide a better alternative: this group of Sussex students are building a wind turbine model.

They have designed a basic but efficient prototype, which will be put to the test for the following 10 months, to guarantee it’s endurance. This time next year, they aim to have successfully implemented their first turbines in Malawi.

These wind turbine’s will be constructed from recycled materials, which ensures that this project is eco-friendly as well as inexpensive to fund. RED hopes to sell it’s products to local schools, businesses and charities in rural areas of Malawi for a fraction of the price at which generators are sold (i.e. around £100). All money earned will go towards funding the project.

RED has been given a stamp of approval by Enactus, making it a recognised social enterprise. Enactus is an international organisation renown for it’s efforts to help improve the lives of others. Run by the entrepreneurial efforts of University students across the globe, Sussex’s RED is now joining the Enactus movement.

Although currently still in the early stages, they have made efforts to contact potential organisations and businesses to work with in Malawi, started doing risk matrixes for three different business models, and started applying for ITC’s and grants to fund the project.

Electricity shortage is a true problem for many people today. Whilst it’s downsides have created lifestyles that seem so distant and out of reach, these are unfortunate realities for individuals across the world. Africa continues to be plagued by this problem. As students at Sussex share their experiences, this issue becomes a lot more real, and a lot more personal.

RED is attempting to help on a small scale, hoping to provide wind turbines as a solution. It’s important to help tackle these shortage problems, one spark at a time.

If you are interested in a role in the project, or are eager to join the team, feel free to contact red.enactus@gmail.com for more information. Otherwise, to support the movement and keep up to date with it, follow their Facebook page “The RED Project”, or their Instagram @redrenewableenergy.

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Natalia June Consumi

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