Friday, August 19, 2005

THE WECHIAU LIGHTING INITIATIVE : An Inspiring Story Of Partnership

When I began writing this article, I had in mind that I was going to write about Light Up The World (LUTW), an international NGO dedicated to ** but as I researched the facts for this article it struck me that it is important to let people about LUTW, it is also important to talk about the types of partnerships that LUTW and others enter into to achieve some of the necessary work that needs to be done around the world. So with a note in my computer to re-visit LUTW and write another article about their good works I want to tell you about a wonderful and effective partnership.

A full day's journey north of Accra, Ghana and along the banks of the Black Volta River is Ghana's Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary. This area is not only home to the huge river mammals because there are also 17 schools, seven schools and two health clinics located in the 40 kilometres long reserve.

In an effort to maintain an undisturbed grazing habitat for the hippos and to minimize their conflict with humans, the villagers have moved all of their farms and fishing camps two kilometres from the river. You have to give the people of these communities a great deal of respect for making such a sacrifice and disrupting their own economy in order to preserve the environment.

This significant commitment of the people of the Wechiau communities to the sustainable development of their region did not go unnoticed by The Calgary Zoo Conservation Fund. The Calgary Zoo Conservation Fund (which has been financially supporting this unique community-protected conservation project from its inception in 1996) has joined forces with the Nature Conservation Research Centre in Accra, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. (a "leader in the Canadian renewable energy industry") and LUTW to initiate the Wechiau Lighting Initiative.

This project was designed to provide 550 solar powered lighting units to the 10,000 people living near the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana by April of this year. The solar powered lighting units are replacing kerosene-fueled lamps, which are dirty, dangerous and expensive to operate.

John Keating CEO of Canadian Hydro said: "we believe in a balanced approach to conservation and development." And this is why he said that they "support the significant commitment demonstrated by the people of the Wechiau communities to the sustainable development of their region. We believe everyone should have access to clean, safe and affordable lighting. Currently, many people in third world countries, including Ghana, use crude kerosene-fueled lamps, which are dangerous, dirty and expensive. Half the people at Wechiau are children who need safe lighting to encourage literacy. There is great enthusiasm in Ghana for the project and a strong desire to move forward."

Because this sanctuary houses one of two populations of hippos in West Africa, where the animals are near extinction the Calgary Zoo Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservation Research Centre recognized the importance of helping the local communities to maintain a viable way of life that will allow them to respect the habitat of the hippos. Also, although the people of the Wechiau area are protecting the environment at a cost to themselves, "they are creating other opportunities for their community, including the increasingly popular trend of eco-tourism."

LUTW takes an innovative approach to the design and fabrication of clean, simple and safe lighting systems for third world communities, using solar power and this is the first of a three-phases project. Energy sources for LUTW's home lighting projects have included Person Powered Pedal Generators, Pico Hydro, Pico Wind Turbines and Solar Photovoltaic and they will apply the most appropriate solution given the overall needs of the community, the available budget and type of installation that is most suitable given other conditions.

LUTW will provide onsite expertise in installation training, micro credit and local business development to the 22 communities associated with the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary. The outcome of the project is to supply and install a LUTW system in each housing compound, as well as, schools and health posts in the project area.

The Calgary Zoo says tat this project is a "community initiative and will ultimately be managed by local citizens who will benefit by protecting this unique resource."

The NCRC, in addition to providing project management and logistical support for the lighting project with the Calgary Zoo, will undertake an umbrella education program for the 22 Wechiau communities. And commitments are in place to provide funding to support this project.

In July of this year Canadian Hydro reported that the Trial Phase of the Initiative was a success. The project, which started in February of 2005, was able to improve and refine the installation design by mid summer. This phase also created greater awareness about the lighting initiative among the intended recipient communities. Installing at least one lighting system within each of the 16 Sanctuary communities was decided to be a good way to achieve this.

At each of the meetings to provide the basic information about the process of purchasing a solar powered lighting system, efforts were made to strengthen the support for the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary.

While the recipients were required to pay the equivalent of $10 US for the system, one of the 10 units installed by late April was donated to the clinic in the community of Dornye, free of charge.

The First Phase of the Lighting Initiative began in July with a shipment of 275 batteries arriving and the shipment of 240 units from Calgary clearing customs in Accra.

Also, in July the Initiative had reached the level of 85% of it fundraising goal. One hundred and fifty individuals and corporations donated $105,000, which was enough funding to pay for 465 of the 550. Fundraising will continue until the end of December, and then a final shipment of lighting units will be sent to Wechiau in January 2006.

LUTW states on its web site that: "Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. is Canada's premier independent developer of EcoLogoTM certified low impact renewable energy. Publicly listed since 1990, the company owns and operates thirteen green power facilities. Wind generated electricity accounts for three sites and hydroelectric power, ten sites. Canadian Hydro's first biomass plant is now nearing completion. Canadian Hydro supports a portfolio approach that embraces all forms of renewable energy, including biomass, wind and run of river hydro."

When you combine Responsible Corporate Global Citizenship, committed, NGO innovators in the area of sustainable energy, dedicated Environmentalists and a community willing to make a commitment and sacrifice to secure their own future, you have a Partnership that is worthy of recognition and emulation.

Drop in on the LUTW's web site for the Wechiau Lighting Initiative. It can be found at:
Light Up The World's Project Page

Canadian Hrdro Developers, Inc. also has a web page on the project at:
Canadian Hrdro Developers, Inc.'s Project Page

The Calgary Zoo has a site on the project at:
The Calgary Zoo's Project Page

No comments: