Sustainability as a Vocation. Sevidzem’s Story

”With electricity, hunger, poverty, and underdevelopment will be history, and this totally lies in the hands of African youth”.

Such an inspiring claim doesn’t belong to a fancy digital campaign, but it stems directly from the experience of someone who decided to dedicated his life to sustainable electrification: Sevidzem Gilles Adjumi, a young engineer from Cameroon and one of the participants of RES4Africa's Renew-ABLE Against COVID project.

His interest in sustainable energy was sparked by one essential doubt that, as a kid, lingered in the back of his mind: “How did my grandfathers’ torchlight work and why he would remove the batteries every morning to be replaced at night?”.

Such a childlike self-question could make us smile, nowadays: our digital and electronic tools became an extension of ourselves, and they are constantly either consuming their charge or being plugged in for new power. Nevertheless, in our daily lives, we often fail to grasp something crucial, that young Sevidzem had fully understood years and years ago: energy is incredibly valuable, and should not be wasted. Such an insight took the shape of an oath that, little did Sevidzem know, would have determined his future: "I did not understand how batteries will die, but I had an idea of what dead meant… and I told my dad, when I grow up, I will learn how to make batteries and make yours that will never die".

We can only imagine his dad’s reaction to such a sense of initiative: pride, satisfaction, maybe even a little amused smile, one of those that adults flash in reaction to their kids’ naïve announcements. No one knew, back then, that Sevidzem’s oath was as serious as it could be.

Nurturing the dream

Fast forward to 2014: our #RES4Youth protagonist of this month is now a bright young man, studying at the University of Buea, Cameroon, and pursuing his engineering degree. However, he hasn't forgotten either his grandpa's lesson, nor the promise he made as a child. And just like in the great stories, a new ally would soon appear to help Sevidzem in his quest: renewable energy.

As he shares with us, as a student, he "had a course on renewable energy […] realising the stupendous resource the community was endowed with”. Bookish knowledge, however, was just the start: renewable energy was about to become a part of Sevidzem's life at a deeper, inner level.

The scenery of such a transformation is rural Cameroon, where he has been operating since his graduation. With a 32% electrification rate and numerous related criticalities, the area is surely a challenging context for its inhabitants, with criticalities that Sevidzem lucidly depicts in their complexity: “The multiplier effect of the lack of electricity are […] setbacks ranging from high postharvest losses due to no preservation facilities, no pipe born water due to unavailable electricity to power pumps, poorly developed commercial sectors […], high infant mortality due to ill equipped health centers, etc”.

It is there that, in 2019, Sevidzem installed a 1 KWp solar power system dedicated to the irrigation of a farm: at the end of the season, the farmer was gifted with a doubled yield. We’ll just let you imagine the magnitude of the impact of such a change, in the income of a small Cameroonian farmer.

These are the stories RES4Africa is glad to share! The example set by Sevidzem is clear and straightforward, and his considerations about the hazards of an inadequate electrification offers no loopholes: without reliable, sustainable and affordable energy, no human activity can be taken for granted, not even the ones we consider universal and inalienable.

A Turning Point

Let's be frank: our world is far from being perfect, and even the most amazing intuition can be halted by lack of funding, mentorship or connections. Nevertheless, with the right amount of passion and determination, anything can be possible. Sevidzem remembers well the 3rd of September 2021: "I received a call from my friend on the Renew-ABLE against COVID project, with a submission deadline of September 12, 2021. We immediately set out for the application through putting together required documents and we were able to submit”.

A great opportunity, but also the readiness to seize it, with a little touch of healthy boldness that only youth and passionate ideas can provide. Needless to say, at RES4Africa, we immediately recognised his potential, and we decided to have him on board for the project. Together with his teammates (Desdemona Njabi Nji and Chu Donatus Iweh), Sevidzem performed an energy assessment for some health centers in Cameroon (Konye, Kurume, Matondo and St. Prosper), while carrying a preliminary design of related sustainable power systems. Such an initiative is nowadays more crucial than ever: the COVID-19 pandemic reminded how important and potentially fragile can be the human right to health, and how intertwined it is with the access to sustainable energy.

The Renew-ABLE against COVID project is RES4Africa’s concrete answer to the need of providing access to sustainable energy to critical health structures in African countries, while supporting young-talented Africans to play a major role in empowering their communities, and becoming the real promoters of the just energy transition. A proper materialisation of Sevidzem's childhood dream…even though, back then, he didn’t know that “not letting any other battery die” would have meant, ultimately, giving other human beings a better existence.

The Path Ahead

The majority of those who are employed in the energy world are well familiar with digits, calculations, spreadsheets and data. However, sustainability must be driven by something more: despite his technical background and practical accomplishments Sevidzem, nowadays, is still capable of dreaming: “I envision a consciously industrialised Africa, where people will be glad to get off their beds in the morning and go to work joyfully”.

This somewhat poetic vision, however, shouldn’t be confused with naivety, on the contrary: as we’ve seen in today’s story, it can be the driver of a tangible contribution to the wellbeing of entire communities. Isn’t it the ultimate purpose of renewable energy, after all? Being at the people’s service, and providing lifeblood to their projects and aspirations, empowering their communities while preserving their environment? Africa’s energy transition can now count on a new advocate, so Godspeed, Sevidzem: we can’t wait to see where your journey will take you.

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Africa is a continent in continuous transformation, with a sustained economic and population growth, a fast-paced urbanization and a young generation of talents who is leading its business revolution. This transformation requires energy and will require it even more in the next decades.
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