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Power Flowing Again from Zulu Hydroelectric Plant

ZULU FALLS, CONGO (July 26, 2011) – Electricity is flowing once again from the recently renovated Zulu hydroelectric dam that supplies power to the 130-bed Karawa hospital and related facilities operated by the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM).

The decades-old dream of now-retired Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Robert Thornbloom, the Zulu power station had been supplying electricity since its construction in May 1984, but has been out of operation for some time.

Power from the hydroelectric dam has saved tens of thousands of dollars that otherwise would have been spent purchasing fuel to run conventional generators to run not only the hospital, but also coffee hulling and flour grinding operations. Zulu Falls is located about seven miles from Karawa.

Decades of wear took its toll on the power station, rusting portions of the large 250-kilowatt German-made Ossberger turbine, one of the original turbines provided by EZE. A second unit, a 125-kilwatt American turbine, is no longer functional.

Plans to rebuild the Ossberger turbine have been under way since 2009 when Thornbloom traveled to Germany to consult with Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), an association of the Protestant churches in Germany supporting church development projects around the world.

The association was a partner, along with the Evangelical Covenant Church, CEUM and USAID, in constructing the original dam and powerhouse, which were built by Covenant missionaries and Congolese technicians. Bill Bristow of Hinsdale Covenant Church provided the civil engineering, with Carl Haney of Broadway Covenant Church providing electrical engineering.

Thornbloom conceived the original plan, designed its implementation, wrote the project paper to gain USAID support, and arranged a grant through EED. Once all the approvals were granted, he directed the original program to completion.

It was fitting, then, that he also assisted in the just-completed renovation work that began in mid-February. He worked with a four-member team from Hydro Project Service (HSP) along with representatives of other partners, including the ECC’s Department of World Mission, CEUM, Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP), USAID, and EED. Funding for the work was provided by Paul Carlson Partnership, a grant from EED arranged by PCP Executive Director Byron Miller, and a Canadian organization, Helping the Aged.

The HSP team had to travel overland from Kenya, bringing in two large trucks to transport the needed equipment, and continuing by boat from Kisangani to Bumba.

The Ossberger turbine was completely disassembled. Rusted water flow control gates were repaired, metal housing leaks were welded shut, and a worn section of the three-ton main shaft was turned on a lathe and then filled with a hardened steel sleeve custom made and shipped from Germany.

The repair team worked alongside CEUM Congolese technicians, teaching them how to maintain and operate the turbine. Urgent repairs were made to the seven-mile transmission line connecting the power station with the Karawa hospital; however, more work remains to be completed.

“The hydroelectric dam is crucial – it provides constant electricity to Karawa hospital, the Karawa mission station that includes several schools, the technical services support area, and the ‘Cold Room’ that stores vaccines and medicines for the medical services in the Ubangi,” notes Pete Ekstrand, Covenant missionary in Congo.

“One cannot overstate the importance of electricity to the operation of a hospital,” Ekstrand adds. “A constant source of electricity allows for better medical care – the doctor can order required tests when they are needed, not when the generator is turned on; sterilization is better; there is good lighting for examinations, and lights when needed at night; there is constant refrigeration for medicines; and there is proper lighting for surgery.”

Electricity also supports additional water supplies to the hospital, schools and homes through the Ndoabili Electric Pumping station – an addition to the Mbudi Water Wheel that has pumped 24,000 gallons a day to the station since 1969.

About the Author

  • Marianne Peters is a freelance writer, master gardener, and environmental educator. She lives in Plymouth, Indiana with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two mischievous ginger cats called Fred and George (after the Weasley twins of Harry Potter fame). From 2008-2013 she wrote the Creation Care column for Covenant Companion magazine. In 2011, her family decided to downsize by half, a decision that led to the publication of her book Declutter for Good: Share Your Life and Reclaim Your Life. She blogs about green living and gardening at www.freshwordswriting.com.

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