Abu Dhabi: In one of the regions of the world where only a handful of residents have access to electricity, a proposal has been put forward to train students and community members about solar lighting use and development.

The initiative will establish a centre to train rural inhabitants in installing and using solar power, and has been initiated by the School Authority in the Nkhata Bay district in Malawi.

Because of its innovation and potential for promoting global sustainability through this project, the Authority has been selected as one of the finalists under the global high school category for the Zayed Future Energy Prize.

“Should we win this famed prize, we hope to make solar equipment accessible to people in Malawi, and teach them to use it for lighting,” Elsen Kisty Mwase, zone education advisor at the Nkhata Bay School Authority, told Gulf News in an email interview.

“[This aim is also important because] the centre will teach the community to make the switch from using carbon dioxide-producing kerosene to solar energy, which is a healthier, safer and more cost-effective option,” she added.

Malawi is one of the countries in southern Africa with the lowest access to electricity at present, and less than one per cent of its rural population is connected to the National Electric Grid. The schools operated by the Nkhata Bay School Authority are located in one of the poorest parts of Malawi, where there is no municipal electricity grid.

So there is much keenness to develop the planned Solar Demonstration and Training Centre, and a 2.5 hectare site has already been allocated for it.

“The community is so enthusiastic that they have begun making us bricks for the structure. Friends from America have also brought us a small low-wattage Raspberry Pi computer uploaded with educational videos, which will enable us to carry out a pilot programme prior to establishing the learning centre,” Mwase said.

The global high school prizes, one category of awards within the Zayed Future Energy Prize, will be handed out during the World Future Energy Summit that is set to begin in the capital on January 22. This accolade is given to one school in each of the American, European, Asian, African and Oceanic regions, and is accompanied by a cash grant of Dh367,000 for every one of the five winners.

The Nkhata Bay School Authority is one of the only educational authorities in contention for the school prize. Among its other environmental initiatives, it is also continuing to perform soil science experiments with the aim of proving that agriculture helps sequester carbon in the ground.

“Since we live in an agricultural community, our main focus has been to teach sustainable agricultural using permaculture practices. Promoting the use of solar energy [through a learning centre] could mean access to energy for all, which opens up a whole new level of possibilities to make our region more sustainable and economically competent,” Mwase said.

He added that the school authority had also been inspired by the UAE’s past.

“We were surprised that such a modern country was once quite similar to Malawi, without electricity or running water and citizens living a hard life dependent on farming and fishing. We in Malawi are also a tribal society with strong family ties. [And it was inspiring to know that] the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s focus on education, agricultural production and traditional values have shaped the UAE into the advanced nation that it is today,” Mwase said.