Carnegie Mellon University

Image of Nyadire, Zimbabwe

December 17, 2015

Shedding Light in Rural Zimbabwe: EWB Brings Streetlights to Nyadire

After nightfall, the people of Nyadire, Zimbabwe commute around the community in encompassing darkness. They watch for approaching cars and dodge them in clouds of dust. Rough ground and snakes become hidden hazards as the residents travel between homes, dorms, schools, a hospital, and an orphanage with no source of light to illuminate their way.

It’s not safe to walk at night, but CEE student Kavin Sanghavi (BS ’17) is leading a project to change that. He and a group of students in the Carnegie Mellon chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)—an organization that sends engineers to help developing communities meet their basic human needs—are working to design and implement a sustainable system to light the Nyadire streets.

Sanghavi, along with CEE graduate student Maddie Gioffre (BS ’15, MS ’16) and SCS student Allison Fisher (BS ‘17), took an assessment trip to Nyadire this summer to talk to community members about their needs and collect data. Working closely with The Nyadire Connection, a mission organization based in Pittsburgh, the team found that Nyadire residents were interested in the proposed streetlight project.

The Zimbabwe Electric Supply Authority (Zesa) cannot currently produce as much power as the country needs, so residents only experience working electricity on an unreliable schedule of a few days per week. To accommodate this inconsistent power grid, the EWB team will power the streetlights with sustainable, alternative energy sources.

“The four alternatives that we set the stage for investigating were solar, hydro, bio-gas, and pre-charged batteries,” said Fisher. The team measured patterns of sunlight, septic tank gas emissions, the length, depth, and flow of the Nyatinga river, and the lengths of all pathways in Nyadire.

After returning to CMU, Sanghavi, Gioffre, and Fisher rejoined the full team and worked with the data to determine the best energy source for Nyadire. Smaller groups then performed technical and cost-benefit analyses for each option and once they have designed lighting system, the group will start fund raising to return to Nyadire in August to carry out the installation.

Lighting the roadways of Nyadire will significantly improve life residents and people who frequent the mission’s hospital. “You don’t think of it as real urgent, street lighting,” said Drew Harvey, project mentor and Chairman of The Nyadire Connection, “But when you’re there and it’s so dark and you’re walking through the kind of paths that they’re walking through, you start to appreciate how important it would really be to light some of those areas.”

EWB requires a minimum five-year commitment to a community, so the students will remain involved with Nyadire long after the initial installation of the streetlights. They will help maintain the lights and explore additional opportunities to help the community.

“The idea is that we don’t just show up, build something, and leave. It’s supposed to be an ongoing commitment, an ongoing relationship, so that hopefully this lighting project is not the end. We’ll go back and make sure it’s still working and then hopefully begin other projects for the community,” said Sanghavi.