Zayed prize: Bettering lives since a decade
Joyce Mhango and Wilfred Ngwira, beneficiaries of the Zayed Future Energy Prize won by Nkhata Bay School Authority in Malawi
Abu Dhabi - Zayed Future Energy Prize brings better life to the remotest corners of the world
Published: Tue 16 Jan 2018, 10:20 PM
Last updated: Wed 17 Jan 2018, 12:24 AM
When the UAE established the Zayed Future Energy Prize ten years ago to carry forward the legacy of Sheikh Zayed who had a deep affinity for nature, nobody foresaw how the award will break all geographical barriers and carry his vision to the remotest corners of the world.
Today, from Malawi to Australia and Indonesia to New Zealand, Baba Zayed's name lives through countless clean energy projects and initiatives that are shaping lives and communities for the better. More than 300 million people have so far benefitted from the award first instituted in 2008 to recognise and support sustainable initiatives. Collectively, the prize money has helped reduce one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and supplied 1.2 billion MWh of clean water in the last ten years.
Dr Nawal Al Hosany, executive director of the Prize said when she looks back to the last ten years, it has been an incredible journey. "The success and impact of the Prize have been phenomenal. Our aim to spread Sheikh Zayed's message of love and care, of peace and tolerance, have reached millions. It is inspirational for us to see how the Prize has grown beyond all human-made boundaries."
No kids born in dark in Malawi
Joyce Mhango gave birth to all her six children in a dark room because her Chihame village in rural Malawi had no electricity. Everything changed when Nkhata Bay School Authority in her neighborhood won the $100,000 Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2014 in the Global Schools Africa Category. The school won the Prize for establishing a Zayed Solar Academy to train technicians who can help light up hundreds of homes in Malawi.
Mhango, who is visiting Abu Dhabi for the Sustainability Week, told Khaleej Times: "We got a solar lamp installed in our rural hospital, and the next day my grand-daughter was born, in the glow of a lamp. We named her Mir Zayed."
Mhango, a 53-year-old widow, is one among the dozens of technicians trained by the Academy to assemble, instal and repair solar PV home systems.
"Our children had to study under candlelight or use kerosene lamps. No work could be done after sunset. But now our life has changed. We can still work in the kitchen in the night. Our women can give birth in light, all thanks to the Zayed Energy Prize," said Mhango.
A banana seller-turned entrepreneur who is helping a solar revolution in her village, Mhango said she regards Sheikh Zayed as a leader of the world. "He has impacted thousands of life and we are grateful to him."
Ever since winning the Prize, the Zayed Solar Academy has expanded into a technical school and has developed a solar curriculum for Malawi and is training student and families in solar energy. "We have helped electrify nearly 100 homes so far in our village including four schools. It is a work in progress and we want to impact more communities around us," said Wifred Ngwira, a board member of the Academy.
Zayed's legacy touches Tasmania
When Nellie Smit, a teacher from Huonville High School located in the small town of Huonville in Tasmania, Australia, first heard about the Zayed Future Energy Prize, she could not believe it. "I thought, how could a Sheikh in the United Arab Emirates give away $100,000 as prize money for schools for sustainability. It sounded too good to be true," Smit told Khaleej Times.
But after doing her research, Smit and her team thought they have found the right solution to their energy problems. "We were struggling under hefty electricity bills of AUD 100,000 and above annually because we had to switch on the heaters all the time. We decided to launch a project to take part in the Zayed Future Energy Prize and that was a new beginning."
The Huonville High School was a finalist in 2016 and won the Prize in 2017 for implementing solar energy solutions in their school.
With the prize money, the public school that has around 400 students, converted an old building in the campus into 'Zayed Energy Hub'. The schools uses it to conduct energy workshops and demonstrations. "We have also launched a project to convert saw dust we collect from the community and turn it into pellets that we use for heating. We conducted an energy audit in the whole school and proposes to reduce our energy consumption by 20 per cent," said Toby Jason Thorpe, a Grade 11 student of the school.
But the biggest impact of winning the prize, Thorpe said, is that the school has been able to involve the whole community in sustainable initiatives.
"Everybody is so proud of our achievement. And they are beginning to understand how important it is to take steps towards a sustainable future."
"Till the time we won the award, nobody even knew about Sheikh Zayed. But now his legacy has even reached our small town in Tasmania.
Lighting up Philippines, one bottle at a time
Hundreds of families in rural Philippines were groping in the dark in the aftermath of a massive landslide and hurricane that wiped out entire villages in 2013.
Enter Liter of Light, a non-profit organisation that recycled plastic bottles filled with water and a dash of bleach. They are then fixed to roofs refracting sunlight during the daytime. A micro solar panel was added to the plastic bottle to provide lighting in the night.
"For days, thousands of families had to survive without lighting. The solar lamps that were supposed to arrive from India and China would take months. That is when I decided to create a cheap, locally sourced-out and sustainable solution to bring lighting to the families. Within two months, we brought solar light to 7000 affected families," liter of Light Founder Illac Diaz told Khaleej Times.
After winning $1.5 million in the Zayed Future Energy Prize for the non-profit organisation category, Diaz's Liter of Light expanded to more than 30 countries providing affordable lighting solutions.
"From our presence in just three countries in 2013, we could bring our easy, community-based and affordable energy solutions to more than 725,000 household worldwide after we won the prize," said the social entrepreneur.
"We partner with women cooperatives by giving them solar parts in loans. By empowering women and training them to fix and maintain solar lamps, we help them become entrepreneurs and power centres in their respective communities. The money they save up are used to provide better education and healthcare for children. So, sustainable solutions lift the over-all well-being of rural communities as well."
Myrna Gayosa, an ex-inmate of the Correctional Institute for Women in Manilla is one of the beneficiaries. An expert in assembling solar PV lighting systems, she is positively impacting lives by helping Filipino women assembly solar lights. "Even though I cant give money to the poor or needy, I can still help them by making solar lights for those that otherwise have no electricity."
Reducing energy poverty in Indonesia
The 2016 winner of Zayed Future Energy Prize in the non-profit category, Indonesia based non-profit organization Kopernik won the 2016 Zayed Future Energy Prize for its Wonder Women Initiative that empowers women to become micro-entrepreneurs by selling solar power products in their communities.
Ibu Bekti is one of those wonder women who have changed the lives of many women around her, and thus carry the legacy of Sheikh Zayed to remote communities in Indonesia.
"I saw how these technologies could be an enabling factor for women to become independent - to be able to save money and energy, and to live a healthier life," she said.
A trained solar light technician, Bekti has till day helped in the distribution of more than 300 clean energy technologies to small communities on Flores Island in Indonesia.
She is also helping farmers who struggle with debt incurred from buying kerosene. Bekti said she trades her solar lamps in exchange of farmers' produce and has started a café in her native village that teaches people healthy eating.
On the receiving the award, co-founder of Kopernik, Ewa Wojkowska said the prize money would help them further expand their work in isolated communities in Indonesia.
"We work with rural household, clinics, hospitals and schools. It is about empowering women through training and employment.
As of October 2015, Kopernik has distributed more than 60,000 units of clean energy technologies including solar lights, solar home systems, water filters, and clean cooking stoves, reaching over 300,000 people.
"The Wonder Women programme provides the technologies and necessary training such as account keeping, marketing and sales to the women so they are empowered to run their own businesses selling the products to their peer, family and community networks," said Wojkowska.