HIVSA’s Choma Dreams Cafés – an innovative initiative funded by the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in conjunction with the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through a grant managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc.– has been making a remarkable difference in the lives of young women and girls aged 15-25 in communities across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Sinani Energy was proud to partner with HIVSA on this life-changing project by providing the solar panels and electrical infrastructure to make it possible.
Providing a safe space where young women can feel empowered
Choma Magazine, an HIVSA initiative, is a digital magazine that focuses on women’s sexual reproductive health, including the prevention of HIV in vulnerable young women. Based on its success, HIVSA launched the Choma Dreams Cafés – a concept that arose from a desire to further empower community-based organisations to provide a safe space for young women to meet, receive support and access online resources to help build an HIV-free future.
To do this, HIVSA needed to convert shipping containers into funky cafés which could house a range of tech resources and provide Internet access for young women to use. They also needed a reliable energy solution to power these cafés – which is where Sinani Energy came in.
The right partnership brings innovative ideas to life
“Our brief was clear: the Cafés needed to be cost-effective, sustainable, energy-efficient, safe and user-friendly,” says Matthew Ball, Director at Sinani Energy. “Together with RT Systems, who took the lead on this initiative, and Palladian Projects, we were able to bring the Choma Dreams Café idea to life.”
RT Systems is a leader in technical and IT solutions while Palladian Projects specialises in designing innovative insulated-equipment shelters and mobile offices. “RT Systems provided cost-effective, user-friendly technology for the Cafés, while Palladian Projects was able to kit out each container in a funky, affordable and mobile way. All these elements could then be powered by our unique solar energy solutions,” says Ball.
The synergy among these three companies lies behind the success of the project, Ball explains. “We not only have deep insight into our respective areas of expertise, but also have a good understanding of how the others operate.”
Alexandra Kayle, Digital Media Programme Manager at HIVSA, agrees that the technical expertise and market-leading thinking this partnership brought to the project was crucial to its success. “The Choma Dreams Cafés needed to be developed in such a way that they were self-sustaining, eco-friendly, engaging and cost effective for the community based organisations that would be responsible for maintaining them,” she says.
Sustainable energy for (em)powering communities
Providing tailor-made, sustainable energy solutions that help communities gain access to power is in the very DNA of Sinani Energy. “We really wanted to be part of this project,” says Ball. “We knew we had the right mix of skills and qualifications to provide HIVSA with the solutions they needed.”
“As the Cafés would be located in remote areas in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, they had to operate autonomously, without tapping into the national grid,” Ball explains. “Our first task was finding a way to provide storable solar energy so that the Cafés could operate even when there wasn’t a lot of sunshine to power the panels. Our second task was understanding how much energy each Café would need to operate the computers, fans, and lights, and how many hours a day each Café would be used.”
By using tailor-made solar panel installations, off-grid inverters, built-in charge controllers and batteries, Sinani Energy devised an affordable and sustainable solution that would supply the right amount of energy to power each Café. More importantly, using batteries allows each Café to operate autonomously, for up to three days, even when there is no sunshine to power the solar panels. This means that the Cafés can run all year round, come rain or shine.
Looking at all the elements to provide the right solution
But installing solar panels is not as straightforward as it sounds. For example, Gauteng has more sunny days and higher solar irradiation than KwaZulu-Natal. An expert understanding of how to link energy solutions to local elements was therefore key to making the Cafés operate properly, says Kayle.
“We had no idea how the natural elements in each area would affect the energy supply,” she explains. “Also, security is a key component in the design of the Cafés as they are based in vulnerable areas. Sinani Energy advised us on the right solution for each location, and how to install the solar panels and batteries so they can’t be seen by passers-by.”
For Kayle, this advice was invaluable. “These communities simply don’t have the necessary resources to provide a safe space for young girls. We needed to set up something that could be used for years to come, so sustainability was critical.”
Ongoing support for truly sustainable results
With 43 Cafés now in operation, Sinani Energy continues to provide support when needed. “Sustainable solar energy has so much to offer to the future of communities across South Africa,” Ball concludes. “There is a lot of potential, particularly in remote communities, where solar can be used to power mobile classrooms or even computer libraries. It was amazing to be part of the Choma Dreams Café project and we hope to do similar projects in the near future.”
You can find out more about the Choma Dreams Cafés here.
For more information about HIVSA contact 011 494 1900 or visit www.hivsa.com. Connect with Choma Magazine on:
Make sure you read about Charlize Theron’s recent visit to South Africa where she chats about the positive impact of the Choma Dreams Cafés here.
Disclaimer: This work was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State or JSI.