Powering MICS

One of the great things about working here at MICS is the opportunity to manage some really cool projects. For those who know me, it’s no secret that I love to try new things, figure out a problem, and just “get ‘er done”. If the project involves tasks that I’ve never done before, that just makes it all the more fun. My ability to take on new challenges and accomplish tasks is something that has served me well in my professional career and it continues to help me as I serve here in Zambia (and it makes my role extremely satisfying).

My most recent project is one that has become increasingly necessary in order for MICS to function as we are in the midst of daily eight-hour power cuts. The daily power outages started at five hours in July, but increased to eight hours in September. Thankfully, there is a schedule and the power company follows it (with the occasional surprise outage here and there!), so we can plan accordingly. There are many theories as to the reason for these power cuts and we’re not sure who to believe. (This article provides some explanation.) However, we do know that the daily blackouts are having massive ramifications on Zambia’s economy as businesses struggle to stay operational (and profitable), while having to source and cover the costs of alternative methods of power.

At MICS, many things become a challenge without power – cooking meals for the boarding children (we have gas stoves for backup, but propane is becoming scarce as more people across Zambia rely on it for cooking), lighting for evening activities several evenings per week, running the borehole (well) pump, keeping fridges and freezers cold, etc. To be honest, eight hours without power is manageable for the most part, but rumour has it that our outages could soon increase to 12 hours daily or more.

All this brings me to my latest project – to install a small diesel generator to power daily essentials. When we arrived in January, MICS owned a small portable generator, but it wasn’t permanently installed. At that time, we could only use it to power the borehole pump as needed. Last month, we decided it was time to mount the generator permanently and wire it into the buildings so that we could use it for some of our daily power needs – just the kind of project that I like to tackle. I’d never installed a generator before, nor did I know how much we could power off this small generator, but it was time to figure it out.

Diesel generator

The diesel generator – installed and secured.

With input and assistance from a number of talented, local people, I worked to determine exactly what we could safely power, how to lock it down to deter thieves, and how to wire it into the buildings. Like the recent water tower project, it was a new challenge and with the help of a great team, we got it done!

Since the generator is small, we can’t run everything off this generator (for instance, it’s not big enough to run stoves or ovens, so we continue to rely on propane during the power cuts), but we can run some essentials. Right now, we’re taking it one day at time to see what will actually happen with the national power grid. As I mentioned, there are rumours that the situation will get worse before it gets better, while others suggest that once the rainy season arrives (hopefully soon!) and the water levels rise in Kariba Dam, the situation will improve. If there isn’t any improvement, MICS may need to look into a more sustainable and robust alternative system (i.e. a larger generator that can power the entire campus, battery banks with invertors, or solar power generation – all which are massive and expensive undertakings). For now, I think MICS is in a good position to handle the power cuts.

All this to say, thank you for your support which allows us to serve here. This is truly a team effort. Without our support network, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve at MICS and help the school to become a stronger, more stable organization. And our team extends beyond our supporters at home – it includes many talented and servant-hearted individuals here in Macha – people like Nathan who helped with the wiring, Chris who has answered 101 of my questions, Keith who built the concrete slab, Coster who dug the trench and helped me lay the conduit and wiring in the ground, and Titus who built the privacy fence around the generator. We have many talented people in our community. It’s an honour to have the opportunity to work with them as I manage these big projects.