As the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP 26) gets underway in Glasgow, renewable energy investment is on the agenda. MAF Technologies PNG has been facilitating solar energy solutions for over 60 years. For remote PNG villages, reliable energy makes the difference between life and death. Elsewhere, for MAF’s headquarters in Chad, solar power is a more sustainable and economically viable option.
Kwaplalim is a small, remote village surrounded by a vast mountain range located in the green, tropical heart of Menyamya, Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands.
Kwaplalim Clinic is the nearest place for surrounding communities to access healthcare. Facilities include a ward, delivery room, a small laboratory, operating theatre, vaccine fridge, oxygen concentrator and other equipment, plus storage for drugs.
The clinic was founded by Lutheran Health Service and employs six health workers.
Like many other health facilities across remote PNG, constant access to electricity is a challenge. An interrupted power source in hospital can lead to serious problems.
Some vaccines and medicines spoil if they’re not kept cool enough, essential medical and diagnostic equipment cannot work, vital telecommunications are sporadic and a lack of basic lighting hampers everything from routine treatment and surgery to emergency procedures and childbirth.
A torch between the teeth
Lifesaving interventions are compromised by a mere lack of reliable energy that the rest of us take for granted.
The most common cases seen at Kwaplalim Clinic are open wounds caused by frequent tribal disputes over land, resources and other grievances leading to death, injury and displacement.
These wounds – inflicted day or night – need stitches and rigorous care. During the darker hours, it’s not uncommon for health workers to attend patients, illuminated by light from mobile phones or flashlights.
When assistants are thin on the ground and extra pairs of hands are scarce, the health worker – busy attending the patient – has no choice but to hold the flashlight between their teeth to see what they are doing.
Darkness breeds crime
At night, without light, the security and safety of both patients and health workers are compromised.
In the past, when the clinic has been left in darkness, criminals have broken in.
A lack of light plays to their advantage – perpetrators have stolen from patients and have even sexually harassed health workers.
A well-lit facility provides greater security and leaves patients and health workers feeling less vulnerable.
It was clear that Kwaplalim Clinic was in dire need of a reliable power source so that health workers could serve their communities more effectively, and for patients to receive the care that they so desperately needed.
“The new light in their clinic not only brings physical change to their community, it also brings spiritual and psychological change. The solar installation symbolises help, hope and healing to everyone in their community.”
– Brian Bimako, MAF Technologies PNG electrician
“A new chapter”
Kwaplalim Clinic’s solar power installation over the summer by MAF Technologies PNG was made possible by the generous support of international NGO – Care International.
MAF completed the installation in just two weeks! MAF Technologies PNG electrician, Brian Bimako, is delighted to have been part of the project:
“God saw the need at this clinic and made it possible for the installation to take place so that lives can be saved. I am glad to be part of this work.
“Since seeing the hospital lit after a very long time, the villagers say that this marks a new chapter in their community where law and order has been a major concern.
“The new light in their clinic not only brings physical change to their community, it also brings spiritual and psychological change as well. The solar installation symbolises help, hope and healing to everyone in their community.”
The new solar installation now provides adequate lighting and power, which makes the jobs of health workers much less challenging.
Patients now feel more reassured and can sleep more peacefully at night, safe in the knowledge that the entire clinic won’t be plunged into total darkness or dysfunction.
New solar panels power MAF Chad HQ
Meanwhile, for MAF’s operations in N’Djamena, Chad, electrics in both the hangar and the residential compound were becoming increasingly unreliable. Fuse box burnouts were common, causing appliances such as fridges, computers and mobile phones to fail.
Improving energy efficiency meant installing a new central switchboard on the compound, and voltage regulator systems in both the compound and the hangar. Once completed, solar panels were installed and connected to power the new system.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, MAF engineers Henk Groenendaal and Alexander Teeuwen – with support from MAF Chad’s maintenance and hangar teams – secured 34 solar panels on the hangar roof and another 28 throughout the compound in October.
Reducing MAF’s carbon footprint
Steve Machell, Country Director for MAF Chad and member of MAF’s Global Environmental Working Group says:
“Chad is an ideal place for solar technology. It has sunshine pretty much 365 days a year, even during the rainy season. The number of days when we would have an inadequate supply of sunshine is minimal.
“Most of our hangar electrical usage is during daylight hours, so there are readily achievable benefits – not just in terms of reducing energy usage, but also reducing the cost of buying electricity from the grid.
“Our solar power solution has been getting attention from other air operators. Many people have looked at our hangar solar panels – we’ve even had one inquiry from somebody who wants to install them. If MAF can lead the way in this, that will be excellent.
“We are demonstrating our commitment to improving our environmental credentials. Anything we can do to reduce MAF’s global carbon output is helpful. It shows what MAF stands for. We care about stewardship – not just our physical resources, but also environmental resources, the planet.”
STORY and PHOTOS by MAF UK