Thursday, April 29, 2010

Solar Power is the New Black

An example of the solar power mechanism that is being used in Bulembu

Colin Meier, Bulembu’s Resident Electrical Engineer has been doing experiments - experiments in how to harness the sun’s energy to lower the electrical requirements for heating water in geysers in Bulembu.

“Currently I am working on a project to manufacture solar panels out of corrugated iron sheets in Bulembu for R500 [$90 USD] which is a deal because to buy them costs on average approximately R7,000 [$1,000 USD],” Colin explains. “The solar panels we can make here use the sun’s energy to heat water in a holding tank so that when it arrives in a house’s geyser it is already sitting at 30°C instead of 16°C.”

When water gets funneled into a geyser normally it is at a temperature of 16°C and the geyser must then heat that water to 60°C. But with the solar panels heating the water before it arrives in the geyser the water must only be heated from 30°C to 60°C instead of from 16°C to 60°C.  So the solar panel does not cut out the geyser’s job it simply lessens its workload.

From far away this mechanism may just look like a pile of junk but in fact this mechanism may help reduce electricity used by the geyser by over 30% thus decreasing Bulembu's electricity bill

Corrugated iron sheets are used to catch the heat from the sun and warm the copper tubing that runs along the inside of it, which in turn warms the water that filters through it

Water runs from a holding tank through the copper tubing inside the corrugated metal sheet and back into the geyser 14°C warmer than it was in the holding tank

Makes sense, right? Well there’s more…

By simply cutting out a difference of 14°C by using the solar panel, Colin estimates that the cost of running a geyser will decrease by over 30%. When a geyser takes up over 45% of the average electrical bill using solar panels in conjunction with the geysers adds up to big savings for people in Bulembu.

“We’re just in the experimental stage right now,” Colin says. “It seems to be working but the next step is to paint the solar panel black to see if decreasing the amount of reflection and increasing the absorption of heat will make any difference in the panel’s efficiency.”

*Note: all temperatures and costs are approximations.
Solar Power Schematic

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bulembu Gets Schooled

Bulembu Christian Academy students working hard at their various tasks

In the beginning…

No just kidding, that just sounded cool.

Since the establishment of Bulembu in 2006, Bulembu Christian Academy has been operating under the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program. But this week that is all changing as the school implements the more traditional, more universally accepted Cambridge curriculum.

What is ACE, you ask?

Well, the ACE education program Bulembu currently uses is an American-based curriculum focused on individualized learning that allows students to learn at their own pace. Children learn from “paces”, which are workbooks that allow students to set individual goals in building their understanding in English, Social Studies, Science and Math. This manner of studying differs from a more standard classroom setting, where teachers stand in front of the class and students take notes and raise questions. This is because an ACE classroom has children in their own cubicle, their own modest office space, where they complete their resource books. If they have a question students raise a miniature flag at their station and the supervisor comes to assist them. There is also a monitor who is in the classroom to address administrative inquiries. When a student finishes a pace they go to a scoring table in the center of the room where they mark their scores then they return to their station and move onto the next exercise.
With the ACE system all the students in a classroom work at their own seperate paces

Why is ACE not suitable for the Bulembu context anymore?

Part of the challenge working with ACE is that it is complicated to tell which grade level each individual student is in. They work in groups according to their age, so in a group of 9-10 year olds, some would be working at grade level one, some would be at grade level four, it really depends on the pace material they are working through at the time. So within one class there can be a huge range of work levels simultaneously.

Other ACE challenges include the fact that the exercises encourage short-term memory development but do not do enough to ensure long-term information retention, comprehension and analytical thinking. Another pitfall is that there is very little group interaction and students are not really from a teacher and they are also not learning from one another.

Lastly, one of the primary reasons for changing from the ACE platform is that its qualifications do not open as many doors for students in the future as the Cambridge program does. ACE does not provide students with access to national Swazi or South African colleges. The ACE system lacks collegiate preparation for the children.

So, why Cambridge?
The Cambridge system of education encourages the children to ask questions and take part in classroom discussions

The Cambridge system provides students with a quality of education that enables them to apply for and study at any institution of higher learning around the world. The Cambridge curriculum focuses on developing students’ analytical thinking, which helps to stretch their comprehension, their long-term memory, and their ability to think and write in complete ideas and full paragraphs. All of this ultimately leads to better classroom discussions, which puts the students into the role the intellectual. The Cambridge system also offers students the opportunity to obtain an exit certificate at any point during their education. They can use this to gain meaningful employment or enter a trade school, increasing their opportunities and giving them confidence in their abilities.

The change from ACE to Cambridge also brings with it good news for Bulembu’s bank account. With the ACE system the school spent around R30,000 for eight terms worth of resources, because once a student has worked through and written in their paces, the curriculum requires Bulembu to burn the used copies of the manuals, incurring a higher fee of replacing the textbooks at the end of the year. But with the new curriculum there is a higher initial cost and as well as yearly examination fees, but the textbooks have a three to five year shelf life and the student gets qualified internationally at the end of his or her tenure. Lastly, for one ACE class there are two salaries: one for the supervisor and one for the monitor. But under the Cambridge program there is one teacher. “As we place the monitors into different roles, it will allow us to pay our teachers a little bit more,” Dennis explains. “That gives us better teaching and helps us retain teachers over the long term.”

The Cambridge program provides students with a more teacher focused education. Because of this, Bulembu is putting more emphasis on developing the teachers so they are putting the best into the children. “We are very pleased to have a good team of teachers,” Dennis says. “The still need some development moving forward. Within the teachers there is the general sentiment that the change is positive.”

Teachers at Bulembu Christian Academy have been put through a training program to ensuer that they are prepared for the switch. ”These changes are significant changes which will require a lot from both our pupils and our teachers,” Dennis explains. “As a result, for our teachers we have initiated an intensive period of training which has taken place over the last month with two sessions ranging in length from 1.5 to 3 hours weekly. These will focus on preparing our teachers for the change. We have aimed to prepare them to interpret and understand our new curriculum, to present this curriculum to our learners in the best possible way and to cope with any challenges arising within their classes as a result of these changes.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Swaziland Flag Day

Only one week after King Mswati’s birthday, Swaziland is getting ready to celebrate Flag Day.  Today the country celebrates its national flag which symbolizes Swaziland’s royal heritage and long history in the Southern Africa region.  This symbol of national pride proudly adorns everything from socks to t-shirts and is one of the most highly decorated flags of any nation.

The flag, which was officially adopted in 1967 after Swaziland gained its independence from Britain, consists of three horizontal stripes.  There is a blue stripe at the top and bottom separated by a red stripe edged in yellow in the middle.  Placed centrally on the red stripe is a traditional black and white Swazi shield which symbolizes black and white people living together in harmony. The shield lays over two spears and a staff decorated with feather tassels. The blue color of the Swaziland flag stands for peace, while the tassel symbolizes the monarchy (which is one of the few absolute monarchies remaining in the world), and the yellow color represents the mineral wealth of the country. The red symbolizes the battles of the past.

So go to your local Checkers or Pick-n-Pay to purchase a flag show off your Swazi pride. Even if you’re just a visitor to this tiny country with a big heart you’re sure to be welcomed with open arms.  Nibe neluhambo loluphephile!

-Martin Shirk

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

Strap on your Birkenstocks and get out the granola for today is Earth Day, my friends.

That’s right, today, April 22, is the day when we walk to work, when we recycle our cans and remember that we are simply stewards of this beautiful Earth, protectors of its resources for the next generation and entirely responsible for leaving it in a better state than we found it.

(Can you feel that? That’s Al Gore beaming with pride.)

Here in Bulembu we make an effort to ensure that the town functions in environmentally sensitive, globally sustainable ways. One such effort is the Bulembu Forestry Seedling Pilot Project.

This project has been developed at the very base level to supply forestry seedlings to the greater Swazi forestry industry in order to generate income that will move Bulembu closer towards its goal of self-sustainability.

By providing the Swaziland’s major forestry sector players with seedlings that are produced inside Swaziland Bulembu will allow these companies to cut down on cost as previously they had to import all their seedlings from South Africa.

Economically the focus would be to reduce transport cost as far as possible by reducing travel distance to the market. Minimizing the movement of the seedlings also reduces possibility of damage and loss.

The seedling project is located in a 27-meter long tunnel that is located on the west side of the town up behind Stores. The tunnel was purchased used from a different seedling project in Swaziland and is covered with UV resistant plastic and a 40% white shade net. The plastic covering prevents washout in the seedling trays during hard rain, protection from wind and provides a stable climate, which is conducive for the germination of the seeds.

The Home of Bulembu Forestry Seedling Pilot Project

Seedling racks were built inside the tunnel to raise the seedling trays off the ground ensuring good drainage of water through the growing medium. This is important, as seedling directly on the surface tend to remain water logged and die off.

The seedling racks are all built inside a tunnel and raised in order to keep the seedling trays off the ground thereby ensuring good drainage of water through the growing medium

Lastly, an overhead micro sprinkle system was installed enabling separate watering of seedling rack as is needed. 
Each seedling rack is watered by a separate overhead micro sprinkler

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Moving On Up

The young men in front of their newly renovated home 'The Potter's House' in Bulembu

In the middle of February we posted on the renovations a group of young men were doing on a house in Bulembu (Let Men Be Men). The home is a project geared towards transitioning young men above the age of 17 out of the BMS children’s homes and into a more independent lifestyle.

Four weeks have passed since the young men finished the renovations on the house and moved into their new home.

The newly completed kitchen where the boys share their daily meals

The boys painted the bible verse their house was named after, 'The Potter's House', on the wall in order to encourage them daily

The sitting area in the house where the boys can spend time studying or relaxing together

“I was about to turn 18 when I was asked if I was interested in moving into this home,” says Knowledge, one of the young men who lives in the new house. “I wanted to because I was living with a group of children and I didn’t enjoy it because the difference in our ages meant that we were all interested in very different things.”

Knowledge in his new room that he shares with his house brothers

Sizwe (18) was much more straightforward in his reasoning for moving into the home saying, “I didn’t feel well living with little kids because I find them annoying.”

While the boys are supervised by Berto, one of Bulembu Ministries Swaziland’s youth mentor, the four young men seem to be enjoying their independence.

“I wanted to move into the house because I wanted to learn how to become a man,” says Phiwo, 18. “I have more freedom and more responsibilities for how to be a leader. It’s good because I feel like I am treated like an adult and I have more freedom to go play soccer when I want or to go visit my friends.”

Phiwo sitting on the front steps of his new home after a satisfying day of working hard on the house

The house members are required to fulfill various responsibilities, which teach them to take ownership of their new home. “I am learning how to take responsibility for myself and for others here at home,” says Sizwe. “We do lots of chores – everything from cleaning the washroom and hallway, cooking, and keeping the garden clean. It’s really good living here because instead of having to take care of things we choose to take care of things.”

Sizwe is excited to be taking on the new responsibilities that come with adulthood such as gardening

The four residents of 'The Potter's House'

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Welcome Home

Fact: three more orphan homes have been completed up on the Dvudvusi row and the 18 children moved in last Saturday.
This home is located in the neighbourhood of Dvudvusi (pronounced “doo-doo-zie”). Dvudvusi is a tiered hillside neighbourhood distinguished by its long rows of homes (if you’ve been to town this is the area at the very top of the brightly coloured village/smartie box houses).

This area formally housed migrant workers for the mine and these particular homes are located on the second row from the top of the hill (row yet to be named) just below a row of recently rehabilitated houses, which have recently (within the past six months) become home to many of Bulembu’s children. These homes are also located on the same row as the new centralized dining hall facility.
The process of renovating an orphan home is as follows:

Once a home as been structurally assessed, workers begin demolition - the old fixtures are dismantled, walls are taken down and the old asbestos roof is appropriately removed. Next, the home’s floor plan is reconfigured to include three bedrooms, one bathroom and a living room (remember, there’s no kitchen because all kitchen facilities are centralized). New windows and doors are installed, walls are prepped for new plaster, a new corrugated metal roof is installed and plumbing and electricity is run throughout the house. The final steps include painting, installing hardware and moving in all of the furniture needed to house six children and a caregiver.

And then last but not least the children settle into their new home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Men in Trees

There are men in the forest digging small holes and sticking things in them.

That’s right, it’s seedling-planting season.

This week a team of workers from Swaziland Siviculture Services is in town planting 6,944 eucalyptus grandus seedlings from the Bulembu Tree Nursery. That’s 1,736 seedlings per hectare spread out over four hectares of Bulembu’s property that was harvested last year.
 “These seedlings grow on an eight year cycle,” explains Bulembu Timber Manager Kurt Puttkammer. “Normally we allow for natural regrowth in the forest but there has not been much growth in this area so new seedlings are best to ensure better quality trees.”

The area that is being planted was treated to prevent weed growth around the young seedlings. The Swaziland Siviculture Service workers will return in two weeks to make sure all the seedlings are healthy and to put down fertilizer. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Out With the Old and In With the New

The old electrical switch gear.
Up until recently, the high voltage electrical switchgear at Bulembu which dated back to the 1940 and 50’s regularly would fail plunging the village into darkness.

However, as a result of a generous donation by the Jim Pattison Foundation towards the upgrade of the electrical, sewage and water infrastructures, all of the old switch gear has been replaced with the latest high-tech equipment. Furthermore, the old underground high voltage cables that criss-crossed the village and blew regularly, have been replaced with a network of new overhead lines and transformers.

The Bulembu team of electricians under the guidance of the Resident Electrical Engineer, Colin Meier, worked relentlessly in rain and sun to effect the replacement of the antiquated equipment. 
 The installation process for the new switch gear.
“We were living for a long time with aging infrastructure in our power network,” says Meier. “The new equipment we have installed allows us to do phase balancing power factor correction. This is basically a fancy way of saying that Swaziland Electric Company has hours when their tariffs are extremely high. So this equipment allows us for better moderation of power consumption during those peak hours so that we’re not touching on the high tariffs. We use the same amount of power but because of this load management we are able to save money. It’s simply a part of the process of becoming more efficient in our power usage.”