Wartburg News

Wartburg students will provide renewable energy in African refugee camp

Linda Nkosi of Swaziland, Daniel Sopdie of Cameroon, and Aseya Kakar of Afghanistan will spend August in the Malzinda Refugee Camp in Swaziland in southeast Africa implementing a renewable energy project.

They won the top grant of $6,000 at the Clinton Global Initiative University in April in a competition among more than 1,000 students to provide solutions to global problems. The funding will help buy materials for five biogas digesters, which convert animal and plant waste into methane.

The Clinton funding only covers a portion of the $14,900 project, which they will implement in August. The students have been raising additional funds by speaking to Cedar Valley service clubs and foundations.

“The life of the people (in the refugee camp) is very precarious,” Nkosi said. “They live from day to day. Some of them have small jobs and may make $70 a month. This project will help cut their electricity costs, so they can use that money for something else.”

“When we were estimating the cost,” Kakar said, “we thought it would save $14 per month for each household. That would help them send their kids to schools because the Swazi government will not help pay.”

The Wartburg students — all seniors — are Davis United World College Scholars. The program founded by financier Shelby Davis and Dr. Philip Geier, a former history professor, provides scholarships to 2,500 international students to study in the United States after graduating from two-year programs at its 12 UWC campuses on five continents.

Kakar studied in the United Kingdom, while Nkosi and Sopdie were in Swaziland, where they did service projects at the camp, a destination for refugees from central and western Africa lured by Swaziland’s political stability and location.

“Swaziland is close to South Africa,” Nkosi said, “so the men keep traveling, looking for work. The women stay in the camp. Some have young kids and can’t continually be moving.”

The children help with daily necessities, often neglecting their education.

“It’s hard for them to actually focus in school because in their minds they aren’t children. They have all these adult things to deal with,” Nkosi said. “They know there’s no food or clean water at home, and there may be younger children. So they think, ‘I shouldn’t be going to school because my mom needs my help.’

“We want to make sure other issues — such as the cost of electricity — are covered.

Many refugees have high school or college degrees. An engineer in the camp will train refugees to build and operate a biogas digester.

“The training is very important,” Kakar said. “We will invest as much as we can to move their skills into the future. They won’t be spoonfed by us or the government or our engineers. We’ve seen the potential in them; we’ve seen the energy. They want to do something different.”

The biogas digesters also will reduce reliance on firewood, which has caused deforestation.

The Swaziland project is just a first step for the Wartburg students.

“We want to look at ways we can implement a project in Afghanistan so Aseya can help her people,” Sopdie said. “We want to look at projects in Asia and South America —different places that need assistance.”

“Once we’ve shown that our project is sustainable,” Nkosi said, “we would expand it by setting up a system of microfinance in which the users would pay us back in five years.”