Interview: How winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize benefited an all-girls rural high school

Wilkista Akinyi

PARTNER CONTENT: Zayed Sustainability Prize

The Zayed Sustainability Prize – created as a tribute to the legacy of the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – is an annual award that celebrates achievements driving impact, innovation and inspiration across five distinct categories: Health, Food, Energy, Water and Global High Schools.

The Starehe Girls Centre in Kenya won the ‘Global High Schools – Africa’ category in 2017. How we made it in Africa recently sat down with Wilkista Akinyi, the ZFEP Project Coordinator at Starehe Girls Centre, where she spoke about the award and how winning benefited her school.

1. Briefly describe the project you entered for the 2017 Zayed Future Energy Prize (now recognised as the Zayed Sustainability Prize).

Starehe Girls Centre in Kenya entered a sustainable energy project under the Global High Schools – Africa category. The project entailed a three-staged plan:

  • Stage one required a complete energy audit of the school to determine our energy consumption and identify waste areas that could be reduced to cut down monthly electricity costs.
  • Stage two involved the installation of a 25 kW embedded carport solar PV system to meet part of the school’s energy demand during the day. It also allowed us to install 10 street lights to enhance security around the school compound, and four solar water heaters to supply clean water to the school kitchen.
  • Stage three, the last stage of the project dubbed the ‘Cool Green Campaign’ focused on creating awareness and promoting sustainable development across various high schools in our country. We used our school as a demonstration hub and learning facility for solar energy. We are now in the last phase of our project.

 2. Why do you think the Zayed Sustainability Prize is an important initiative?

The prize is an important initiative because it inspires change. It harnesses the youth to empower and enable communities to implement sustainable development projects. The Global High Schools category is a good example of how real change can happen and have a ripple effect; students who have won the prize are in turn using knowledge gained from this project to inspire other schools to actively implement sustainable initiatives and address challenges in the areas of food, water and even environment.

 3. How did winning the award benefit the school and its students?

The main goal we had when applying for the prize was to significantly reduce electricity costs. Subsequently, the savings would then be channelled towards educating a larger number of bright but needy girls. Starehe Girls Centre was founded as a charitable institution but aims to become a self-sustaining institution. We believe that working towards becoming a 100% renewable energy self-powered institution will not only promote environmental sustainability, but also extend the opportunity to provide more girls with a solid education. So far, our school has recorded a significant reduction in electricity bills.

Winning the prize in 2017 has allowed us to carry out our sustainable project and implementing solar solutions as part of our energy source. As a result, more students at Starehe Girls Centre are increasingly becoming interested in pursuing higher level education in energy engineering and other sustainability electives. We have also noted improved performance in physics as students’ exposure to practical learning, through the implementation of the project, enhances their understanding of the subject.

4. What impact did the project have on the surrounding community?

The money saved from the electricity bills has enabled the school to venture into agricultural practices and the surplus is sold to neighbours at affordable prices. Through the Cool Green Campaign, surrounding schools are gradually gaining interest in the adoption of renewable energy as an alternative source of energy for lower costs. The installation phase of the PV system created a few employment opportunities for local workers. General training on system maintenance was also offered to the school’s electrician as part of the project.

 5. What was it about your project that you think made it emerge as the winner?

The winning factor of our project was its feasibility. It was aimed at creating an impact on the school and the neighbouring community. The impact is measurable and easily achievable. It was mostly carried out by the students themselves with the help of a few teachers and the management of the institution.

The submission deadline for the Zayed Sustainability Prize 2019 is 9 August.