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Electronics where there is no electricity

I mentioned in my post about life in rural Malawi that Manyamula Village does not have electricity. But people still use electronic tools. How does that work, you ask? How can there be electronics where there is no electricity? The answer is lots of ingenuity and creating solutions with what is available. Here are some of the smart SIA small businesses that have been created to help people thrive without electricity.

Hair Shaving

Most people in the village have short hair – buzzed but not shaved down to the skin. Zondia Hunga started the Chilita Ngwa Lusugu Barber Shop in 2008 using a car battery to power his razor. He was busy with a line of customers when we visited the market and saw his stall! When the battery runs low, Zondia uses his new motorbike, which he bought with some of his business profits, to go to Mzimba (22km from the village) to recharge the battery. People can also pay him to charge their cell phones using his car battery, adding extra revenue to his business!


How will Canaan be able to use the laptop we gave him? Luckily, it has some battery life, so it doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time. When it does need charging, he will be able to charge it with the car battery from Zondia’s Barber Shop or another cell phone charging businesses. Another good option is taking the laptop to Mzimba and using the electricity in the Internet café there. Even though he’ll still have to make the long journey to print and scan, with his own laptop he won’t have to wait in line for a computer to be available. Similar to the cell phone network, there is a wireless network that Canaan can connect to from his home through a special USB device, adding Internet time in a pay-as-you-go fashion.

Boyd teaches Gondwe and Lilian to use their new computer given by a generous SIA donor.


The lack of electricity can create a great business opportunity for people who do have access to electric voltage. Owoidighe Ibanga started a movie house in the center of town. When we visited, he was showing a Christian VHS movie to a room full of kids during the Saturday market. He uses a generator for his electricity.

Cold Soda

There are many cultures that prefer not to have ice in their drinks, still, for people in Manyamula who want to cool down on a hot day, there is one grocery store at the main town crossroads that sells cold Coca Cola and Fanta out of a gas generator refrigerator. Granted, the fridge is not only for soda, but probably also for some meat products.

Wanting More…

In spite of all this “making do” there is a clear desire for things to be better. Take, for example, Allan Mwale, who opened a bicycle repair business with a SIA Small Business grant in 2008. He uses wire, wood and pieces of metal to fix broken petals, replace brakes, and add back “seats” (people can ride on the back of a bike for a small fee – much faster than walking!). However, when I asked him what dreams he had for the future of his business, Allan said that someday he would like there to be electricity in the village so that he could do frame welding.

This is the kind of problem that Allan needs a welder to fix.

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