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A night walk around Mandevu Village in Malawi – Part 2

John Keane


This is Part 2 of a blog from our CEO, John Keane, who took a night walk around Mandevu Village where we hope to run the pilot of Project Switch, in Malawi. Read Part 1.

Gladys lives in a small house in which seven children sleep. It’s hard to imagine how there is enough room. As we leave and continue on our night walk around Mandevu village, we thank Gladys and her family for inviting us in and explaining how her nine year old boy George made a small torch out of bamboo, wire, an LED, four batteries and a shoelace.

It’s now very dark and the stars above are shining beacons. The silhouette of the Kasungu and Ngulu Ya Nawambe hills are just about visible, courtesy of the moon. Chief Helbert Petrol Chisinga explains that we’re lucky – when the moon isn’t out, you can literally can see nothing ahead of you. Without a torch, you might as well just close your eyes when walking along the path.

The distinctive hills becoming dark outlined silhouettes. You can barely see the collection of small houses – the only light after dark in Mandevu Village comes from fire.

The moon is out, however and people are still moving around the village – but you need to be careful. Cyclists whizz along the main thoroughfare through the darkness and not all of them have lights, or indeed bells. The first you know of a light and bell free bicycle approaching is a “Pssst” sound. Riders alert pedestrians of their presence in this way. We were almost hit a number of times.

A cyclist moving quickly through the dark. NB: This photo has been brightened in Photoshop to make the scene more visible

We see another family sitting in near darkness on their small porch, outside their house. They are burning a small fire between three stones and also have one of the home made torches we saw in Gladys’ house. I’m suddenly aware that the air in the village at this time in the evening is being filled with smoke and there is a faint smell of plastic in the air. Small boys are sat on the side of the road, burning whatever they can get their hands on. There’s not much else to do in the dark.

Next, we pass many homes in complete darkness. Most people have gone to sleep, the chief explains. Others have candles burning inside. We then come across a family with their door open. Once again, the chief greets the mother and father, explains our ‘walking tour’ and we see two small children sat on the mud floor of their house, reading by candlelight.

Children reading by candle light in Mandevu village, Malawi

There are two types of candle on sale in Mandevu village. One costs 71 kwacha (0.7p) the other 100 kwach (10p). Both have a burn time of about 2 hours – the more expensive candle burning a little more evenly.

The family are also using a small torch light which is wedged into the ceiling, but it doesn’t provide much additional light. It’s the same type of light we saw in Howard’s shop. The father starts brushing his teeth and we move on, it’s bedtime.

As we make our way back to the main road, the chief asks if he can see some of our solar lights.

So we walk to the car, pop open the boot and our SunnyMoney agent starts to turn on the lights. Simply turning on these lights turns this into an impromptu solar lighting demonstration and a small crowd gathers around. I find it hard to imagine a similar scenario taking place back home. We take light for granted. We don’t gather around a car in pitch black to see someone turn on a light.

After the demonstration, we thank the chief for his time and head back to SunnyMoney HQ to reflect. Much of the village is asleep and we head back to town. I look at my phone. It feels very late. But it’s only 8 o clock.

Can you imagine having to go to bed at 8pm because it’s dark and you have no means of making light?

If you’d like to help please support our Project Switch appeal to help lift Mandevu Village out of the darkness.