GOOD NEWS | Solar geyser project is changing the lives of unemployed youth

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A solar geyser solution is bringing warm running water to informal dwellings.
A solar geyser solution is bringing warm running water to informal dwellings.
Lameez Omarjee
  • Community members in the Witsand informal settlement can get warm, running water in their homes thanks to a solar geyser project.
  • The pilot project, launched by Lulalab Foundation, is ridding the environment of plastic waste while creating jobs.
  • For every 100 geysers installed, three people can be employed, and if this rolls out in more communities, more people can be employed.

A solar geyser project launched by the Lulalab Foundation is ridding the environment of plastic waste while also creating jobs for unemployed youth and bringing warm, running water to vulnerable households.

The project is being piloted in informal settlements in Atlantis in the Western Cape. This is after the Atlantis Special Economic Zone put out a call for sanitation solutions for people living in informal settlements, says Sippy Mpofu, project manager for Lulalab.

Lulalab is a non-profit company founded in 2016, and is the "social arm" of Lulaway Holdings, a youth employment solutions company, explained Lulalab CEO Errol Freeman. Freeman is a co-founder of Lulaway and moved to Lulalab on a full-time basis in 2020. Lulalab is focused on social solutions and had previously piloted the Letsatsi Water Project in Hopefield, Soweto, which is similar.

Through the partnership with the Atlantis Special Economic Zone, the pilot was funded for rollout in the informal settlements of Witsand and Pella.

The solar geyser is made up of 100% recycled plastic that is moulded into a geyser panel, which can be mounted to a house. Water is fed from a 50-litre tank to five two-litre coke bottles fixed to the geyser panel to be warmed. That water is then fed to a tap that can be installed inside or outside the dwelling, explained Mpofu.

The device allows people to access warm water to wash their hands, bath or do their dishes. The water is not meant for drinking because of the plastic content. But it saves the beneficiary from having to walk far to fetch water.

Mpofu explained that Lulalab employs technicians who are trained to assemble the geyser and its components – which another company manufactures – install it and maintain it every four days after installation. The maintenance includes filling the water tank and checking for wear and tear.

So far, there are 70 of these solar geysers installed in Witsand and 30 at Pella.

Community members are incentivised to collect bottles. "The geyser is made of bottles lying in the streets, creating refuse that would have ended up in the oceans… We are putting our waste back to work," said Mpofu.

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For every 50 bottles collected, there is an R100 airtime incentive from Lulalab. Some community members have resold the airtime, which has served as a source of income for them, she explained.

Mpofu says that for every 100 geysers, three people could be employed.

If the project can attract more funding, it can be rolled out to more households, especially in other communities in the Western Cape and allow opportunities for skills development and job creation for more youth.

One of the youths that have benefitted from the project is 22-year-old Ngqaza Simamkele. Simamkele told Fin24 that after completing a tourism programme at Cape Town College, he still found himself unemployed. However, he had submitted his CV to Lulaway and soon received a call from LulaLab offering him a job with the solar geyser project.

"What I can say about Lulalab is that it really helped me because I was staying at home, trying to look for a job and now I have something. I learnt a skill… I did tourism, and I knew nothing about geysers," Simamkele said.

He also discovered a new side to himself. "Working with the community really helped me to see the other side of me that I didn't know."

Simamkele described himself as an introvert. But having to interact with people to explain how the geyser system works, he has also had to become a problem solver. He hopes to be involved in more projects like these.

"I learnt something… and I learnt to communicate with the community," he said.

Ngqaza Simamkele (left) and Nkosikhona Booi (middl
Ngqaza Simamkele (left) and Nkosikhona Booi (middle) have learnt new skills and found employment with Lulalab. Project manager Sippy Mpofu (right) says the hope is to rollout the project to more communities and create more jobs.
Fin24 Lameez Omarjee

Twenty-seven-year-old Nkosikhona Booi heard about the job opportunity at Lulalab from Simamkele.

"I was also not working. He [Simamkele] approached me and told me there is a vacancy somewhere," Booi said. He explained that he is now economically empowered to take care of himself and his mother, who lives in the Eastern Cape.

He hopes to complete a course in plumbing in future. Learning how to work with the pipes has been useful for him. He can now fix broken pipes and taps, and he doesn't have to hire someone else to do it, Booi explained.

Freeman said that the project benefits communities, and their lives, creates jobs, and even cleans up the communities. The hope is to expand the project to more places. "Just having 100 is a microcosm of what we potentially can do. We want to ramp it up."

Mpofu said it is important to acknowledge the partnership with Atlantis Special Economic Zones, the City of Cape Town, and GreenCape, which have supported the project. The leaders in the communities they work with have also helped reach community members to benefit from the project. "Their collaboration with us is highly appreciated," said Mpofu.

The Lulalab Solar Geyser Project was exhibited at this year's Enlit Africa conference, held in June, a gathering of energy industry players across Africa. The Lulalab exhibit was part of The Green Hub, which showcased green solutions across the Western Cape.

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