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Future is bright after Mozambican rains

Installation of a solar suitcase and solar panel at the health clinic in Meserpane.

November 28, 2022

By Carolyn Cummins

When it rains, it pours. And that’s exactly what it does during the rainy season in Mozambique, which typically begins mid-November and peaks in January and February.

When PWRDF made plans to fund and install 50 solar suitcases in off-the-grid rural health clinics in Nampula province last year, we took this into account. A solar suitcase is a wall-mounted unit that opens like a suitcase and is connected to a solar panel on the roof. It includes phone charging ports, a headlamp, a no touch thermometer, and a fetal doppler to monitor an unborn baby’s heartbeat. Based on a successful installation of 30 units in 2016, we ordered 50 more units from We Care Solar in California at the end of July 2021, then shipped them to our partner EHALE in Mozambique to ensure that installation could be completed before the rainy season began. The estimated delivery date was September 24, which would allow plenty of time to get the suitcases up and running.

But when it rains, it pours.

The fall of 2021 saw lengthy delays and backlogs at shipping ports due in part to COVID-19. We were informed that the shipment was delayed but would arrive the second week of October. Then it was November 6, which became November 20, and then December 8. Anxious staff in Canada and Mozambique worked on plans to deliver training and installations during the most challenging time of the year.

Finally, on December 29, the solar suitcases, panels, and tools and equipment were delivered by truck to the EHALE office in Nampula city, with great rejoicing on both sides of the ocean. Early in January 2022, online training took place, with a We Care Solar installer based in Zimbabwe, Richard Librock from the PWRDF office in Toronto, and EHALE installers in Mozambique. Installations began in earnest a few days later, as the rains permitted. Solar panels had to be installed on clinic roofs, which are made of corrugated metal and become very slippery in the rain. But with determined installers – many of whom were applying the skills they learned in 2016 – the work progressed, and clinics began turning on the lights for the very first time.

But when it rains, it pours.

On March 11, 2022, Category 3 Cyclone Gombe ripped through the heart of the project operational area. With bridges swept away and roads underwater, installations were suspended to attend to relief work. Several clinics with solar suitcases were damaged, including roofs that were ripped off. PWRDF provided support from our emergency funds to repair the roofs and get the clinics up and running again.

By the end of March, 30 new solar suitcases had been installed, and the lithium batteries had been replaced on 29 of the older 2016 models. Repairs were made to the damaged clinics from April through June. PWRDF received reports of more babies being born in health clinics with trained birth attendants and healthcare providers. With light to work by during the dark nighttime hours, and equipment powered by the new solar suitcases, medical staff were empowered to provide excellent care to their patients.

Then the unthinkable happened. In August, Islamic insurgents burned down two of the health clinics housing solar suitcases just inside the Nampula Cabo Delgado border. Both suitcases were destroyed; a tragic loss of health care services for people already living in extremely difficult circumstances. The clinics were closed and will not re-open until renovated and security ensured for the return of health personnel

PWRDF chooses to work with partners in some of the most challenging regions of the world. We do this because individuals and families in these areas often do not have access to the basic services, they need to live full and productive lives: a secure source of food, clean water, health care, income generation opportunities, and methods to mitigate and adapt to climate change. PWRDF’s vision of a truly just, health and peaceful world means that we sometimes must take risks alongside our partners, supporting them as they work in less-than-ideal circumstances, to reach the most vulnerable.

The Light for Every Birth project, despite its many challenges, has resulted in the installation of 49 new solar suitcases and the replacement of lithium batteries in 30 older solar suitcases. They are providing electricity to 79 delivery rooms in healthcare centres that previously had no source of electricity, where midwives and nurses used flashlights and light from their cell phones – often held in their mouths – to deliver babies in the dark.

Since the first solar suitcase installation in 2016, more than 80,000 women have given birth in the 30 health facilities, with more than half of these deliveries taking place at night. Health facilities in Liupo, Meconta, Nacarôa, Nacala Velha and Mossuril districts experienced approximately 17.5 times more night deliveries. Clinics in Memba, Mogovolas, Monapo and Eráti districts experienced twice as many night deliveries. Because more women delivered in health facilities and there was reliable access to medications through the project, more women experiencing postpartum haemorrhage were treated with Misoprostol.

In spite of the challenges and setbacks – and with a big thanks to the support of our caring donors – solar power is empowering communities and making a world of difference for moms and babies in Mozambique.