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.

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  1. I really got excited when I read about Zulu being rejuvenated so as to provide water and electrical power to Karawa. Living there when it was not in working order or when the water power over the dam necessitated less use of electricity, it was easy to understand how easy it is to take modern conveniences for granted. A big thank you, Bob, for your deep desire and continued effort to keep things running in Congo even in your retirement years. And, Jan, thanks for all the behind the scenes time and effort as Bob’s secretary and encourager. We all know what a BIG difference that makes for the hospital and all the other services provided because of Zulu (and all the other things you have done for the mission in various places and ways.)

  2. What a joy to celebrate another “restoration” story.  God has used so many in his Kingdom work, and I am proud to know people like Bob and Jan who have tirelessly worked on the nuts and bolts of trucks, light plants, bicycles, sawmills, corn mills, coffee hullers, and hundreds of other technical devices in Congo for decades.  And they continue to serve their Lord faithfully with the gifts and skills they have been given.  What a gift they are to our Covenant family.

  3. Both of our kids were born at an annex to the Karawa Hospital. God bless Bob Thornbloom, the CEUM and ALL of their global partners and “Mission Friends” as the hydro-power electrified hospital continues to extend health care to the Ubangi region of Congo!

  4. How exciting to hear that the lights are on again at Karawa!! I had not seen the dam and plant until our visit in ’04 and it was about worn out then. I was amazed at the magnitude of the project. Bob saw the need for electricity and running water when he was a small boy and pursued his dream of making it happen. God bless you, Bob, and also Jan as you have so faithfully worked along side.

  5. Bob and Jan Thornbloom have been friends for years. Thank you to them and to all who made this rennovation possible. Karen Benson

  6. What a great example of God using the gifts of many to meet the needs of many more. Thanks for sharing this story and so many others that show us God’s work in action.

    Dave Rose

  7. We are pleased that electricity has again lit the Karawa area. We recall travelling at night coming home and seeing the lights in the distant, over a dark road through the villages, and knowing that it was water power that was providing the lights for the hospital and surrounding homes and schools.
    We have kept in contact with the German donors and the Kenyan team and when presented with the challenge, they were excited to bring Zulu back to its original state.  We were also able to connect them with the Presbyterian missionaries that had a hydro turbine that needed repair.  

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