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ZimEnergy enhancing maternal health

ZimEnergy Ecofoundation’s maternal health programme has helped bring light to over 50 000 expecting mothers in rural health centres with no electricity around Zimbabwe

Community Builders with Takemore Mazuruse

Asit-down with ZimEnergy Ecofoundation director Wadson Muchemwa (47) reveals a man so passionate about community development in general and maternal health in particular.

A social entrepreneur of repute who started his business journey at the tender age of 13, Muchemwa’s maternal health programme has helped bring light to over 50 000 expecting mothers in Last Mile rural health centres with no electricity around Zimbabwe.

“We have reached a total 135 rural clinics so far with our maternal health project through which we provide solar suitcases that allow health centres to provide lighting to expecting and delivering mothers in disadvantaged health centres around Zimbabwe,” Muchemwa said.

“Most of these clinics have an average of 10 to 15 deliveries per month and multiplied by the number of clinics, that translates to about 1 600 deliveries per month covered under our on-going project.”

To ensure sustainability and effective service delivery, ZimEnergy Ecofoundation has trained more than 400 health workers on how to use their renewable energy technology to bring light to rural health centres.

“ZimEnergy Ecofoundation is our corporate social responsibility arm where we partner with We Care Solar from America and the Ministry of Health and Child Care focusing on pregnant women and newly-born babies by providing renewable energy solutions for Last Mile clinics without power or facing power challenges,” he said.

“Through this programme, we are complementing government efforts on Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] attainment by combining goal numbers 3, 5 and 7 to ensure good health and well-being, to promote gender equality as well as providing affordable and clean energy respectively.”

The ZimEnergy Ecofoundation motto says, “no woman should die while giving birth and no child should die during birth” and Muchemwa, who was born in a rural hut under firewood light, believes his organisation’s maternal health project is essential and should be supported by all players in the health and child care sector.

“I was born in a rural hut under firewood light and I understand what it means to be poor,” he said.

“I only moved to Harare when I was six years old staying in Chitunwgiza and my experiences then demonstrated how poor I was.

“When I went to school, I realised I was the only child with torn uniforms and I felt the headmaster has segregated me by buying everyone new uniforms.

“Unbeknown to me, everyone had been bought uniforms by their parents and because of lack, my own parents could not afford such a luxury. It was at that moment I decided to start buying and selling.”

He said that entrepreneurial idea blossomed into the now respected ZimEnergy group with four arms, namely ZimEnergy Solar, ZimEnergy Bank, ZimEnergy Consultants and ZimEnergy Ecofoundation.

“Only ZimEnergy Bank is not functional yet, but the vision is alive,” Muchemwa said.

“When I was in Grade 6, I started selling roasted popcorn (maputi) during local soccer games and that helped me to buy uniforms and shoes.

“I then joined some women who would travel to Botswana to buy and sell and during one such mission I bought a radio and sold it to capitalise my business. The entrepreneurial mind continued to grow and when I was in Form 1, I applied for a passport and started travelling to Zambia to buy goods for sale in Zimbabwe.”

Muchemwa, who is a fluent Nyanja speaker, did his education at Zengeza 5 Primary and Zengeza High 1 schools in Chitungwiza. His first job was at Delta under OK Zimbabwe from 1990 to 1992 where he became a stores controller at the age of 19 after which he moved to Alliance Electrical Wholesalers as the stores and purchasing officer.

“Driven by my desire for growth, I then studied for a Diploma in Purchasing hoping to get promoted, but by the time I finished that course, they wanted degrees for managerial positions,” he said.

“It was then that the thought of starting my own business came and in 1994 at the age of 24, I had registered my company Wadson Electrical, which focused industrial automation, lighting and all electrical components.

“The business grew because I was not scared to travel and explore. I would travel to places like China and India for stocks and new technology. With that success, I managed to build my own house, drive any car of my choice, acquire a farm, various properties and lodges, but still I felt empty.”

He said he was passionate about serving humanity even through his business.

“That thought birthed the ZimEnergy Ecofoundation, which today is bringing hope to disadvantaged communities albeit with its own limitations given limited funding and resources,” Muchemwa said.

“In 2008, when I was 35, I noticed that the problem in Zimbabwe is power generation. I then moved to America looking for investors to work on energy generation. While there, a professor who invited me helped to build ZimEnergy, which has the business and humanitarian side to it.

“I formed ZimEnergy Solar, ZimEnergy Bank, ZimEnergy Consultants and ZimEnergy Ecofoundation and upon my return in 2010, I lobbied through the Ministry of Energy to remove duty on renewable energy materials and merchandise and we only succeeded after 10 months, this time working as a consortium.”

Muchemwa’s ZimEnergy Group has partnered with DLight Design from California in America which is a for profit organisation focusing on technologies benefiting developing countries.

“I got the dealership for their solar products and through that deal we are providing affordable yet durable services which helps remove pressure on the national grid. However, a lot of community education remains necessary so that we have more locals adapting to renewable solar energy as compared to wailing over the persistent electricity woes,” he said.

Muchemwa’s initial envisioned partner for the renewable energy project was a local private mobile phone operator and he remembers selling one of his properties to acquire a container load of solar lanterns, but some unforeseen developments resulted in the container being shipped to Malawi.

Within two weeks of that delay which went on for 10 months, the mobile operator had launched its version of solar lanterns automatically shutting him out of business.

“We had several meetings with the mobile player and my hope was that since they were doing phones, I was going to focus on lanterns,” he said.

“My container was lost to Malawi and in two weeks they had launched their own product. That affected me in a big way and I almost thought of quitting.”

However, there is a silver lining to everything and the disappointment with the giant mobile player resulted in Muchemwa deciding to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), this time with a focus on bringing more light to expecting mothers through ZimEnergy Ecofoundation.

“When my container eventually came, the mobile network player had already taken up the market and I then engaged NGOs that we could help disadvantaged communities through an affordable renewable energy service. The focus was on home systems and solar and the results for both the commercial and humanitarian side of our operations have been amazing,” he said.

“We have done solutions for water, home system, industrial solutions covering supply and installation and we are also doing energy management.

“We also have dealership with SunKing Solar Lanterns and Solar Home Systems from Chicago in the US. Their product system has lithium acid which has got a two-year warranty. Under their products, we have the single lantern, then the two-light and the three- light systems to empower those from the base of the pyramid.

“If we had control on bank rates, we would have loved for people to deposit and pay over time so that we lessen their power burden and help those that can’t afford once-off payment.”

Much of the profits that Muchemwa realises from the commercial side of his operations go to ZimEnergy Ecofoundation where they are operating in Masvingo, Mashonaland East and Matabeleland South provinces.

“Our strength with the maternal project is that, what we designed for the project was developed using testimonies from our research in targeted beneficiary communities where expecting mothers would use torches, candles and phones during childbirth and this led to the idea of the solar suitcases that come with Led or surgical lights, lithium ion battery that lasts for seven to 10 years as well as lithium batteries that last for up to 15 years,” he said.

“What it means is that if mothers experience a tear during childbirth, they can be adequately attended to and they can also charge their phones which allow them to reach the next referral centre for further assistance in cases of complications.”

Through availing solar suitcases, ZimEnergy Ecofoundation has allowed for developments whereby health centres that in the past used foetal scope are now using the digital foetal doppler that gives the correct heartbeat of the child to facilitate timely movement of the child to the next health care in cases where strain is detected.

Muchemwa revealed that they continue to explore avenues to better their technology for improved service delivery.

“In terms of technology, we need technological partners and every now and then we go to the US for designs that suit our people. Our focus is more on Silicon Valley in California who design for Africa. Our products are proven in the region and in East Africa,” he said.

The social entrepreneur revealed that for 2019, they we were getting funding of 50 batches of suitcases and they still feel they need to do more in Mashonaland East province where they had stopped because of capacity and funding constraints.

“Beyond Mashonaland East province, we are moving back to Masvingo and Matebeleland South provinces. We have already secured the funding for 50 suitcases, but again the challenge remains in terms of administrative costs of the project as well as all-terrain vehicles required to do the work,” Muchemwa said.

“We are getting direct funding from We Care Solar, but that is in terms of the actual suitcases and we have to take from our own reserves to be able to travel around Zimbabwe installing this much-needed renewable energy resource at rural health centres.”

Muchemwa, however, insists the project won’t stop until they reach the last clinic in Zimbabwe.

“The vehicle I amusing for this project is self-built and oftentimes it breaks down in the rugged terrain in rural Zimbabwe, but that won’t deter us,” he said.

“We sometimes sleep outside or in the car fending off the merciless bites of mosquitoes. In some instances, we sleep in delivery rooms and being awakened to vacate at midnight when an expecting mother comes during an emergency.

“In fact, those that have seen the impact of this project assume we are funded by big organisations like USAid or Global Fund for our nationwide operations, but this is purely sacrifice coupled by an undying desire to reach out to communities.”

He also revealed that it was his hope that the envisaged Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between their current partners We Care Solar and the government sails through so that the project benefits all clinics in Zimbabwe.

“We are at the MoU stage and pushing through the Ministry of Health and Child Care for a partnership between We Care Solar and the government,” he said.

“This envisaged partnership will ensure that this project becomes national and it’s already at Cabinet level and the hope is that it benefits all the clinics in Zimbabwe.”

Muchemwa, who is married to Ellen and is a father of three girls, said his hope was that Zimbabwe’s relations with the international community normalise so that “we invest in the untapped renewable market in Zimbabwe”.

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