This article appeared in the April 25, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Her gift of hydropower lights up opportunity and hope

Djaffar Sabiti/Reuters
Congolese nun and electrical engineer Alphonsine Ciza attends to the general circuit breaker at her micro hydropower plant, which provides electricity to a convent, schools, and a health center, in Miti, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 12, 2022.
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

The dateline on the story is a place called Miti. Its subject sounds like something cooked up at MIT: An innovator with a gift for electrical engineering goes DIY on a small-scale hydropower project that also carries the power to change lives.

In fact, the backdrop is the rickety grid in the blackout-prone Democratic Republic of Congo. The innovator: a Congolese nun whose convent helped her get training after she showed an interest in, and an aptitude for, fixing circuitry when things flickered.

“They saw in me the talent [for electrical engineering],” Sister Alphonsine Ciza told Reuters, “so they offered me an opportunity to go study [it].”

That would pay dividends. After a few years of donor funding, beginning in 2015, the convent also secured enough money to build, near a reservoir, a micro-turbine plant that cranks enough energy for the convent, a clinic, and two schools. 

To help children study, and to keep a clinic’s lights on, Sister Alphonsine is not afraid to get her hands dirty greasing the gears.

The power, of course, is clean. While this use of hydro is chiefly about convenience – leaning on cheap, renewable energy – it also sidelines costly, emissions-belching gasoline or diesel generators. So this sister’s confident act also represents a pushback on the perception that the Global South, broadly, is solely a victim in the climate crisis story. 

Miti shows how ingenuity can offset government shortcomings, notes Monica Mark, the Monitor’s Africa editor. It’s also a small example “of how Africa is leapfrogging technology that’s contributing to the climate crisis,” she notes.

Locally, it’s a story of pure practicality.

“Having our own turbine,” one Miti school headmistress tells Reuters, “has been a great relief.”

This article appeared in the April 25, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 04/25 edition
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