Lifeline Energy

Lifeline Energy is a non-profit social enterprise that provides sustainable information and education access to vulnerable populations. We achieve this by designing, manufacturing and distributing solar and wind-up media players and radios for classroom and group listening. Since 1999, we have distributed more than 500,000 power independent radios to provide on-demand access to information and education, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the years we have received numerous awards including the Tech Museum of Innovation Award, a World Bank Development Marketplace Award and an Index: Design to Improve Life Award. In addition, our founder and CEO Kristine Pearson was named one of TIME magazi...
Feb 8, 2013

Help Save Taonga Market

We recently learned that the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) cancelled Learning at Taonga Market provoking a nationwide crisis in education. Taonga will still broadcast via community radio stations, but the majority of learners, up to 60,000, are left entirely without trained teachers and regular lessons. Some community schools may even close their classrooms. And as always, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the ones hardest hit. 

In response to how we could best help, Kristine Pearson, our CEO, spent two rewarding weeks in Zambia meeting with officials in the Ministry of Education’s Educational Broadcasting Services (EBS).  We’ve decided to partner with EBS for a three-year research project that will analyse the impact of our Lifeplayer MP3 on Taonga Market.  It’s called the LIFT project and undertaking the research will be students at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) in collaboration with the Open University of Zambia. This will pave the way for a scale-up of Lifeplayers to support Taonga Market across Zambia.

Although the Lifeplayer is being used in a variety of education projects in Africa, we haven’t been directly involved in its monitoring and evaluation. This research will help us to not only make improvements to the device and our own training process, but also to more comprehensively understand how the classroom mentors and teachers are using it, how learners are benefitting and identify any broader impacts that it is having.

For the ministry, the Lifeplayer MP3 helps to solve the problem of access. We’re delighted to announce that the Lifeplayer has been made an official learning tool of the ministry.

While in Zambia Kristine visited schools in the Southern Province that are continuing to broadcast Taonga. One that a made a lasting impression was the Choma Community School which is about a 90 minute drive on a dirt road from the district town of Monze.  The majority of the population are subsistence farmers.

Kristine was especially impressed with volunteer mentor, Mr. Maplanga, and his Grade 7 class.  What made it unique is that it only had four pupils – the opposite of most rural classrooms with large class sizes. If these children were in a government school they would be in a multi-grade classroom, if at all.

Mr. Maplanga turns on Taonga every school day at noon on the radio he received from Lifeline Energy in October.  Until then, they depended on the community providing batteries to power transistor radios, which made listening patchy. Without Taonga these kids would not be able to pursue their education and move on to secondary school.

Oct 31, 2012

Ensuring education through the Lifeplayer MP3

Lifeline Energy’s chief executive officer, Kristine Pearson visited community schools in Zambia this month. She’s convinced, now more than ever, that the Lifeplayer is urgently needed!

Read an excerpt from her Zambia Diary blog about the Lifeplayer’s importance for providing educational access, especially for difficult subjects:

With each school classroom I visit, I ask the children what they want to learn if they could learn anything. The most common responses of 8-13 year-olds surprised me.  These are kids whose only clothes may be the ones on their backs and may eat just one meal of maize porridge per day.  They may be orphaned, child labourers, or care givers to sick parents.  The top response was science; the second was mathematics. They said that science would help them to better understand mysteries and to learn how many things work.  Qualified teachers in science and math are scarce.
With the acute shortage of trained teachers, particularly in rural areas coupled with increasing student enrollment, obtaining a quality primary education presents a host of challenges for the Ministry of Education.  More than a decade ago they began producing Learning at Taonga Market, a radio-based primary school programme which is broadcast on ZNBC, the national broadcaster, and community radio stations.  In turn, we’ve provided our solar and wind-up radios to where ever children learn in Zambia, even if it’s under a tree.  Radio offers the possibility of reaching the greatest number of learners the most cost effectively, especially for subjects like science.  It’s a reliable distribution channel to deliver educational content to large audiences of learners and to teachers in need of upgrading their skills.
And like all technologies, radio has limitations, which is why we introduced MP3 capability into our device.  Valleys and far flung communities might not receive a signal.  If a girl misses a lesson, she can make it up.  If a boy doesn’t understand a concept, he can listen again and again until he does. During the rainy season when roads or small streams might become impassable, entire classes can catch up once it becomes safe.

Broadcasting on ZNBC is expensive and eats deeply into the Ministry of Education’s budget. If it can’t pay for broadcasting fees, ZNBC simply stops airing the Taonga programmes.  I discovered that after five months of being off the air around Lusaka, schools lessons will begin again later in October.  Further, due to the high broadcasting costs, the ministry is scaling back Grades 4-7 on air, meaning that tens of thousands of learners might not receive an education, or certainly not the quality and consistency that Taonga Market offers.Even some community station fees are becoming unaffordable.


Jul 2, 2012

A #ToangaMarket child's view on solar v batteries

Moon City Community School, Lusaka
Moon City Community School, Lusaka

When Lifeline Energy recently went to the Moon City community school in Lusaka we had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Banda, a remarkable 14-year old who told us how much she adored the Toanga Market programme. She explained how the radio distance initiative had given her an education and future. What struck us most of all was not only her love for education but also her admiration for solar-energy. 

When asked why solar and wind-up radios are important, she immediately responded: 

"We had a radio that needed batteries but when the battery went flat we didn’t have money to buy new ones. Now we have a new radio that doesn’t need batteries, so we won’t suffer and we can use it all the time."

Sharon is just one of close to 900,000 #ToangaMarket children. Tweet #ToangaMarket to show your support for this truly unique educational programme.  

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