Switching on ‘Silent Power’ for Clinics and Communities in Remote Lesotho

The clinic in the remote village of Manamaneng, Lesotho. Photo Credit: Power Africa/TIA Productions

For more than 6,800 people in rural Lesotho, a clinic in the mountain village of Manamaneng and its small contingent of nurses are their only source of essential healthcare.

Yet when the lights go off and the generator doesn’t work, night-time emergencies can turn into nightmares . . .

Manamaneng’s Mamma Thato

Meriam Sesiu, a practicing midwife for over 30 years, is the head nurse at this remote clinic. Her passion for delivering quality healthcare is widely recognized, so much so that she is often referred to as Mamma Thato, meaning “mother love” among locals.

Mamma Thato, Meriam Sesiu. Photo Credit: Power Africa/TIA Productions

Every day, Meriam treats a wide range of patients, including children needing vaccines and people living with HIV, tuberculosis, and diabetes. More recently, she added COVID-19 screenings to her daily duties.

Meriam also runs a maternity waiting home at the clinic. Pregnant women leave their families and walk for days or ride on horseback to reach the clinic, sometimes weeks before their due dates.

First-time mom Makopano walked alone for six hours to get to the clinic and wait here for the arrival of her baby. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

“It is better for expecting moms to stay here a few weeks before they are due in case they deliver early or go into labor at night and are unable to get to the clinic,” explains Meriam.

But the women know that despite Meriam’s care and best efforts, the power might cut and their babies could arrive in total darkness . . .

“Although it is everyone’s worst nightmare, deliveries at the clinic often have to take place at night even though there is no electricity,” says Meriam.

Meriam often uses a single-source lamp to light up the delivery room. Photo Credit: Power Africa/TIA Productions

Caring for Patients Without Power

“For people who are living with power, I don’t think they understand how bad it is to be without power” — Meriam Sesiu, Head Nurse, Manamaneng Clinic, Lesotho

Despite her dedication to her patients and passion to deliver quality healthcare, Meriam’s ability to provide consistent quality care was stifled by a lack of clean, reliable energy.

For years, Meriam operated the clinic and provided essential services without reliable electricity. An old, dirty, and often unreliable diesel generator was the only source of power. When the generator was working, the air and ear-splitting noise pollution it produced was extremely unsettling for Meriam and her patients.

The ultrasound machine cannot be used regularly due to the unreliable power at the clinic. Photo Credit: Power Africa/TIA Productions

Running a clinic without electricity is debilitating. Electricity is essential for storing vaccines, treating patients at night, and powering medical equipment, such as ultrasound machines vital for antenatal care.

Meriam lives on-site, leaving her daughters and family behind in the country’s capital, Maseru, for long periods. It’s only 180 kilometers (111 miles) away, but the treacherous roads mean it takes her roughly eight hours to commute home. Without electricity, she is isolated — communicating with her loved ones is nearly impossible because she cannot frequently charge her phone.

Meriam cannot frequently charge her phone to communicate with her family. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

“For people who are living with power, I don’t think they understand how bad it is to be without power,” says Meriam.

As part of the U.S. Government’s COVID-19 response, Power Africa awarded over $2.6 million in grants to provide urgently needed off-grid power to over 250 rural clinics

The clinic in Manamaneng is typical to sub-Saharan Africa, where over 60 percent of health facilities do not have access to reliable electricity.

Over 60% of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable energy access. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

As part of the U.S. Government’s COVID-19 response, Power Africa awarded over $2.6 million in grants to electrify health facilities, allocating funds to nine solar energy companies to provide urgently needed off-grid power to over 250 rural clinics run by people like Meriam in Lesotho and eight other sub-Saharan African countries, primarily in isolated areas beyond the grid.

It Takes a Container to Power a Village

Lesotho-based OnePower answered Power Africa’s call. Having worked in the country since 2015, they understand the importance of electrifying the clinic and delivering power to the surrounding villages through a long-term, sustainable plan that would succeed long after the grant period ends.

Matt Orosz, Chief Executive Officer of OnePower
Matt Orosz, Chief Executive Officer of OnePower
Matt Orosz, Chief Executive Officer of OnePower. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

“I studied engineering in order to apply what I learned to the kinds of problems that I experienced living in the mountains,” says Matt Orosz, Chief Executive Officer of OnePower, who lived in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer prior to starting OnePower. “So, for example, not having any electricity, running water, roads, bridges, infrastructure, but in particular, the power situation was what I ended up focusing on.”

People in Lesotho have many different ways of getting energy into their lives, but these are often expensive. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

Through the Power Africa grant, OnePower partnered with Cape Town-based Sustain Solar to ship a containerized solar solution from South Africa to the remote village of Manamaneng.

Manamaneng’s container being prepared in Cape Town. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Roy Potterill

However, transporting an off-grid power system across two countries, on dirt roads, and through treacherous mountain passes is no small order.

Thankfully the container arrived safely in the village. Photo Credit: Power Africa/TIA Productions

The deceptively short distance between Maseru and Manamaneng took the team three grueling days by truck. They spent two nights sleeping on the road as they made their way, slowly and very carefully up into the mountains. Narrow passes, hairpin bends, slippery gravel tracks, and erosion made slow going for a large truck with a heavy load.

Lights On to Change and Save Lives

Despite the challenges, the team delivered a clean energy solution in the quickest time possible. And after a week of laboring under these extreme conditions, nurse Meriam flicked the switch on their new solar power solution.

Matt’s team worked for seven days to install the container, after which Meriam could finally flick the switch to receive silent power. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

“My heart is so touched,” she said. “Day in, day out, turning the generator on, the diesel level, the sound . . . really it was hectic for us. Silent power is with us now.”

Through the USAID-funded Power Africa grant and the ingenuity of OnePower, Manamaneng’s clinic now runs on a reliable, affordable, and clean source of power. It will continue to do so for years to come.

Watch the Full Story

A room with a light on at the clinic in Manamaneng.
Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ