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News, 5/8/2018

Women energised remote villages in Zambia

The women in a village in Zambia were not content with just building a home for their families. They also wanted to electrify the village with green energy. A programme supported by Finland loaned them money and trained them.

“Women can do anything they want, if they get the chance,” says Georgina Kunda, who electrified her house with solar panels.

“We’ve learned how to assemble and install solar panels and connect them to batteries. It was amazing to see that everything works, and now we have electricity and light even in the evenings,” Kunda says.

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“You can learn just about anything,” Georgina Kunda says. “Next I will establish a business of my own so that I can assemble enough solar panels to sell them. I’m looking for start-up capital now.” Photo: Johanna Erjonsalo.

Kunda lives in the village of Kalulushi in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province and leads a group of women who built their own homes and electrified them with self-made solar panels. The bricks, too, were made from local materials. The women got a loan and training through the Green Jobs Programme. It is a good and tested practice, and neighbouring villages, too, have already adopted it.

Solar energy revolutionised life in the remote Zambian village out of reach of the main grid. Now children can study even in the evenings, which has had a major impact on their school performance.

The programme, implemented by the International Labour Organization ILO, has already created green jobs for more than 4,300 Zambians. “Green” jobs are sustainable and decent jobs where workplace safety and health are safeguarded.

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Serious accidents at work are common in Zambian sawmills. The Green Jobs Programme generates jobs with better safety at work. Photo: Johanna Erjonsalo.

Zambia is rooting out inequality

Despite rapid economic growth in Zambia, there are still significant internal inequalities in terms of development in the country. While urban areas have become more prosperous, rural poverty remains high at 70 per cent. The poorest Zambians have traditionally relied on relatives and neighbours for safety and protection. Now the country is building a new social security scheme with support from Finland.

In four years, the scheme has managed to reduce poverty in the targeted areas. Direct income transfers are channelled to selected poor families. The scheme has been expanded, and about 540,000 families receive now income transfers. The beneficiaries include single parent households headed by women and families where a family member is over 65 or disabled.

The social security scheme helps people get over the worst when they lose their job or their crop fails. The benefits are targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable and marginalised people who have the greatest need for safety nets. At the same time, the local economy has been given a boost.

It is a ground-breaking programme in Africa, and the African Union has been interested to copy the Zambian social security scheme elsewhere in Africa.

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Catherine Kankutalu’s whole family benefit from the social security scheme. Photo: Johanna Erjonsalo.

The benefit is not universal

The social security scheme targets single parent households, households headed by women, the most vulnerable over 65-year-olds and families where a family member is chronically ill or disabled. Some villagers who are not eligible for support grudge the selective social security scheme. Others are happy to get work and income through the scheme.

Catherine Kankutalu’s family of four receive 180 Zambian Kwachas (15 euros) every other month. With the money, she has been able to expand her cornfields, start growing sweet potatoes and keep goats.

“I’ve been able to hire many people to help me with the crops, and I’ve bought seed and fertilizers. Now I can sell about 16 sacks of corn. With the income, I can help my grandchildren at school, get them school uniforms and pay their tuition fees.”

“I get the benefit in cash at the local school. It has brought a great change to the whole family,” Catherine Kankutalu says.

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Violet Mundela puts her grandchildren to school with the help of social security. Photo: Johanna Erjonsalo.

Violet Mundela is over 65 years old and a widow. She is raising her four grandchildren alone. Her own children have died or moved away. She has paid hospital fees and bought goats with the benefit.

“I hope my grandchildren will be able to study as long as they want. Education is the only legacy I can leave them.”

Mundela has also built a new home with the benefit.

“Before, everyone laughed at my unsteady hut, but now things are different. I used to make school uniforms from pieces of cloth I found lying around, and we ate only once a day. Now we have security in our lives, and we have it much easier,” she continues.

Outi Einola-Head

The author works in the Department for Communications of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Green Jobs Programme

  • The programme to promote the green economy and job creation has increased the use of environmentally friendly methods, created hundreds of jobs, and enhanced the role of environmental considerations in education programmes.
  • Environmental and decent work requirements are a consideration in new jobs. Social security is part of the employment relationships, labour laws have been reformed and occupational safety and health care have been improved.
  • Finland's support for the project amounts to EUR 8.5 million in 2014–2018.

Social security scheme

  • Around 540,000 families receive income transfers. The children of the families entitled to basic social security are healthier than before and less likely to be absent from school.
  • Fields produce better yields, and there is more cattle in the villages. Even the local economy has received a boost.
  • Finland's support for the project amounts to EUR 9.6 million in 2016–2018.

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