When Lukiya Mbedza got three flashes and four please-call-me text messages in succession on her ordinary phone, she panicked. She knew the caller on the other end, so she did not hesitate to call back.
When she did, what she heard was a distress call from her brother in Chigonthi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) M’bangombe in Lilongwe. It was about their mother who needed immediate medical attention because of high blood pressure.
Her brother, Allan Mbedza, asked Lukiya to send some money for him to take the ailing mother to M’bang’ombe Health Centre using a hired bicycle taxi (kabaza).
But as they were talking, Lukiya’s phone battery started packing up.
“I quickly assured Allan that I would send the money right away since I had enough cash in my Mpamba wallet,” explains Lukiya, who lives in Ngomani Village, Senior Group Village Chimoka in Lilongwe.
“But as I was about to send the money, the battery finally packed up and the phone shut down immediately,” she further recalls, a sad expression washing over her face.
Lukiya lives in an area that is yet to be connected to electricity and, in her desperation, the next move was to rush to a nearest trading centre to charge her phone – even just enough to let her send the money to her brother, Allan.
The feeling of delaying her brother bothered Lukiya so much that she had to hike the Kabaza charge to get to the trading centre faster.
But another horror lay in wait for her because when she was approaching the small trading centre, an unusual silence screamed from the place.
“There was no music coming from the few barbershops as is always the case and all the barbers were either busy playing bawo or chatting. They had no power and they had taken their wet cell batteries to Senti Trading Centre for charging where, again, there was the usual power blackout,” Lukiya explains.
“I was stranded and I could not do otherwise but ask the Kabaza operator to assist with his phone. But he, too, had left his phone elsewhere for charging.”
Lukiya’s situation is so common to most mobile phone users throughout the country, especially in remote areas where power challenges are the order of the day.
But the challenge is not without a solution now as TNM, bothered with the inconveniences their customers face, partnered Team Planet to pioneer a solar revolution in Malawi to ease the lives of millions of Malawians by keeping them always connected.
The initiative follows two partners’ research over the past three years where they interviewed thousands of people and harnessed their data which produced amazing results, according to TNM’s Public Relations Senior Manager Akossa Mphepo.
TNM and Team Planet solar revolution was piloted in 2016 and the test release of very bright, long-lasting solar lights brought overwhelming results.
The revolution is offering a wide range of innovations to every TNM shop, agent and vendor. They include portable solar chargers ranging from 7w to 50w; power banks of various capacity, high-powered LED bulbs that can produce light up to 20 hours and beautiful, acoustic Bluetooth speakers.
“This is a bold direction in renewable energy towards transforming people’s lives. It is a continuation of our goal in promoting environment-friendly products in mitigating negative effects of climate change,” TNM’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Douglas Stevenson said in an interview.
“We are committed to making solar power a big part of people’s lives,” he added.
On the other hand, what Joanna Gentili, CEO of Team Planet, said in another interview gives an assurance of an everlasting partnership that will ensure that Malawians no longer suffer Lukiya’s embarrassment.
“We are proud to be forging a partnership with the truly Malawian network that will provide a seamless nationwide distribution network using TNM shops and vendors,” Gentili said.
The beauty with the TNM and Team Planet solar panels and the charging devices is that they come with built-in controller, USB and cables and in their various ranges of power capacity, they have ability to charge 1,800 phones per year or up to five phones per day.
TNM and Team Planet partnership has also brought forth an innovation aimed at transforming the lives of Malawians by keeping their homes well lit at all times.
TNM is offering four different lights with varying capacity and lighting hours. Some of the lights can serve as a power bank for phone charging. There is also an offer of audio devices like Bluetooth speaker for music entertainment.
With devices such as the solar panels, some individuals have already ventured into small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by opening shops where ordinary phones, smart phones, lights, power banks and Bluetooth speakers are charged at a fee.
One such enterprise is “Uncle Goodal” Barbershop & Battery Charge in Area 50, Lilongwe along the road from Area18B to Area 25.
The shop owner, Goodwin Moyo – popularly known as Uncle Goodal – owns two 50w solar panels and with them he makes a kill, charging phones and various devices at a fee in an area yet to be powered by electricity.
“I looked at the situation and seized the opportunity. Today, my income surpasses that of my competitors who rely on wet cell batteries, which require charging first to operate,” Moyo says.
He adds: “Due to the usual power outages, the wet cell batteries are always flat and the shops close while I rake money with the power generated by the solar panels.”
Also catching up with the new TNM and Team Planet technologies is the small trading centre where Lukiya failed to charge her phone at one time in Ngomani area. The revolution here is in full throttle.
By powering remote areas such as Ngomani, Senti and Area 50 in Lilongwe, TNM and Team Planet seem to practically translate and put into action President Peter Mutharika’s desire for an even distribution of electricity in rural areas.
During the launch of the Malawi Rural Electrification Program 8 at Ngolowera Primary School in Mulanje in April this year, Mutharika emphasized on lighting most remote areas in the country.
“Every district in this country should have more access to electricity than ever before,”Mutharika said.
Today as the country embraces the new energy revolution, Lukiya as well as many who shared her despondency at one time or another is not left behind.
Experience has taught her a lesson too bad to forget and she now owns a portable solar charger which she always keeps handy to power her phone.
It is, perhaps, Lukiya’s appreciation for the innovation today that clearly describes the pleasure that comes with being part of the TNM and Team Planet solar revolution.
Bubbling with happiness, she says: “It feels safe and great to have a reliable and constant power supply that is always with you.”