The Turing Trust has been working in Malawi since 2015 enabling IT supported learning across the Northern Region. Under our current project, we’ve been tasked with the question of how to support off-grid communities gain access to the digital skills they need for life and work in the 21st Century. Our answer? The SolarBerry.
The SolarBerry is a solar-powered computer lab which uses low-energy Raspberry Pi computers. Designed for off-grid communities and housed in a repurposed shipping container, the SolarBerry can also be used to generate income by using the excess energy it generates to recharge small electrical goods, like phones and lamps, at a fraction of the cost and environmental damage of petrol generators. The SolarBerry is designed for use by the whole community, not just the schools it’ll be supporting by hosting movie nights and adult IT classes.
Our Malawi Project Manager, Brian Ferguson, was in Malawi to see the handover. He was joined by Sam Gray and our team in Malawi as well as Yewo Msiska from our partner organisation, the Centre for Youth and Development.
We held a formal ceremony to celebrate the SolarBerry’s handover to the community on the 22nd June. It began with an exchange of intent delivered by the head of the Parent Teacher Association, Mr WA Kaunda. Following this exchange, the local elders, teaching staff at Choma and members of the school committee and board all gave thanks to the Trust and Centre for Youth and Development for the time, expertise and effort put into the creation of this innovative computer lab.
Having the community together for the ceremony presented an excellent opportunity for the Turing Trust team to highlight some of the key aspects of the SolarBerry to the wider community, and to stress how it can and should be utilised by both community and school pupils alike. Yewo illustrated the input that locally-based CYD has had in the community-centred design and laid out how CYD will be supporting the community in the coming weeks as the SolarBerry starts to be used.
The SolarBerry will have a huge impact in Choma where it will not only benefit education but will also enable the community to generate and sell power. This will have a huge impact on the day to day life of the community as members will no longer have to walk 10 miles to charge their phone. It’ll also mean that the local schools are able to offer Computer Studies and support their young people in gaining the digital skills they need for the 21st Century.
Over the next month, the team from CYD will be visiting each week to support the “bedding in” process. This will allow teachers the opportunity to build their knowledge and understanding of the IT before letting their pupils loose in the SolarBerry. We’ve also set up a chat group to give assistance from the Trust in the UK and ensure that the SolarBerry is used for the benefit of all in Choma.