In June, Louis Nsomba, a 20-year-old phone repairer with disability, was shattered as his old car battery, power inverter and solar panel could no longer power his business.
The self-taught phone doctor, from Mphepo Village in Traditional Authority Kuntaja outside Blantyre City, had to act swiftly to save his business.
“The inverter and battery were draining fast and the 25-watt solar panel wasn’t producing the much-needed power. At time, I would even send back customers,” he recalls.
Louis’ legs were paralysed when he was aged five and he quit schooling in Standard Two as a rocky terrain in his rural setting made it difficult for a wheelchair to reach the nearest primary school.
His father Naison, a builder, bought the expired power appliances to boost the phone-repairing skill that keeps Louis busy though he spends most of his time lying in his room.
Due to his persistence, Louis resorted to using a charcoal cookstove to repair phones.
When the going got tough, the young man sent an appeal for financial assistance to acquire a reliable solar power system.
In a message widely shared on the social media, the phone repairer stated that he was not looking for alms but the power to put his skill to productive use.
When youthful activist Pemphero Mphande received the message from people familiar with his social work to uplift disadvantaged people three weeks ago, he launched an online challenge to raise K250 000 in a day for buying Louis’ needs.
“I got the message twice via WhatsApp and it raised my curiosity. I dialled one of the phone numbers listed and spoke with Louis’ father who told me of the situation,” he says.
Mphande and his peers raised K267 000 on day one and more continued to donate until the fund hit K580 000, he explains.
As money poured in, Mphande travelled to Louis’ home to appreciate the situation and assured Louis that a surprise was on the way.
In August, Mphande and his friends installed two 1 500-watt solar panels, two batteries and an inverter worth almost K700 000 in Louis’ homestead to re-energise the business.
“The group decided to do more than what Louis asked for and we got a solar power system that would also light the home so he can repair phones even at night,” Mphande explains.
Louis no longer sends customers away. He has since discarded the smoky cookstove for clean energy from sunlight.
“The new power system will serve the whole village. My customers were travelling long distances to have their phones fixed, but this is history. Their reliable phone repairer is back in business,” he says.
Naison is happy. He no longer fears that Louis and his house may go up in smoke.
He says: “When my son shared his story on the social media, I thought people would just read and ignore it. Little did I know that youthful Malawians would actually use the same platform to assist Louis.
“Mphande and his friends have done a commendable job. The solar panel I bought for my son was just 25-watts, but they have brought two bigger panels, two big batteries and a bigger inverter. Our home now has lights,” he says.
Just like that, renewable energy has become a lifeline for Louis’ business, which earns up to K10 000 a day.
He harbours an ambition to do more than repairing a phone’s hardware.
He says: “I want to learn repairing software, but it requires special training and tools, including computers. However, I can neither sit properly nor use a wheelchair. Since I quit school too early, the dream is almost impossible.”
But dreams are free, so Louis is not afraid to dream big.