In September of 2017, thanks to our committed and generous donors, we were able to successfully complete two more Solar Village Projects in India. Both Chakar Fields and Pahari now have electricity for the first time.
Chakar Fields is located in Bihar, near Kihare and Rangpur villages, where we had previously implemented projects in 2015 and 2016. Much like Kihare and Rangpur, the people of Chakar Fields are in the “untouchable” caste, a status which means they receive almost no outside service or support of any kind. Upon arriving in Bihar we went directly to the village to meet with our local project managers, Sunil and Papu and began preparing for the project.
Here are a few of the homes in Chakar Fields, which will give you some idea of the impoverished state of the village.
The people of Chakar Fields make their living by collecting and selling firewood from the nearby forest and growing subsistence crops on small plots of land.
After surveying the village and talking with the people of Chakar Fields we returned to our hotel and reviewed our plans for the distribution. Early the next morning on September 18th we began with a demonstration for the people on how to use and maintain the solar lights and chargers, and then began to distribute them.
Here you can see our local managers Sunil, Papu and Kapil registering the recipients and handing out the lights.
In the villages we work with material possessions are few and far between. Cell phones are becoming more prevalent and are the only piece of modern technology commonly available. These lights not only provide illumination; they also allow villagers to charge the tool that allows them access to the world.
When the sun went down that evening the lights in Chakar Fields came on for the first time marking another successful Solar Village Project.
The next morning we returned to Chakar Fields to make sure everyone was satisfied with their new lights and to check on the other villages where we had implemented projects over the past few years.
We started off by visiting Rangpur, the largest village we have worked with to date. We were encouraged to see that after one year the villagers had become fully accustomed to having clean bright lights in their homes and were eager for any future assistance we might be able to give. We visited about 30 homes and in each one the lights were charging so they would be ready for use at sunset.
A couple of the smaller lanterns we distributed last year charging in the sun.
Only a few miles away from Rangpur and Chakar Fields is Kihare Village where we implemented a project in 2015. Much to our dismay we found that the village was inaccessible by car because the dirt road leading up to it had been washed out during this past season’s monsoons. As you can see in this video from one of our previous visits to Kihare the road is barely passable even before the monsoons come. The torrential rains that strike these villages cut them off from the outside world for months at a time. Fortunately our local managers are able to visit frequently enough to make sure the systems there are functioning properly.
After visiting Rangpur we drove to Gauterine Village, the site of our very first project. What we found there was quite interesting. Since our last visit in 2016 the government has begun to run power lines into the village connecting Gauterine to the grid for the first time. But the villagers found the newly supplied grid power to be overly expensive, and the service intermittent and inefficient due to the frequent blackouts. Even with access to electricity from the grid they were still using on a daily basis the lamps provided by the SVP. In fact they requested additional lamps, as solar has proven to be a more reliable source of power for them.
The reality is that India doesn’t have enough centralized electrical generation capacity to properly power the tens of thousands of villages in need. To do so would require the construction of numerous coal burning power plants, taking years to do and costing billions of dollars. Solar is by far the best solution.
After surveying the village, talking to the people, and getting their feedback we said our goodbyes and got ready to travel from Bihar to the city of Varanasi in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh where the next day we would be implementing The Pahari Solar Village Project.
Pahari village is essentially no different than any of the other villages we have worked with in Bihar. The people there have never had access to electricity and their main source of income is subsistence farming.
The Pahari project started off like all the rest. We arrived early in the morning, surveyed the village and got acquainted with the people there. Once we finished our introductions we proceeded to do a demonstration for the people on how to use and maintain their new solar lights and phone chargers.
The sun set and the lights came on for the first time in Pahari village marking another successful Solar Village Project.
The kids of Pahari no longer have to use dangerous and inefficient kerosene lamps to study night.
One thing we’ve found since we started doing these projects is that besides access to electricity the people desperately desire clean drinking water. Water-born illness is a serious problem in all the villages we work with. As we continue to expand and our access to funding grows SVP will be looking to install solar water pumps and filtration systems in all of our project villages.
A young boy gathering water from an open well, the main source of water in Pahari village and the reason why water-born illness is so prevalent.
Our recent capacity building efforts also include a new partnership with a research institute called ISEP (Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy), based at the Johns Hopkins School For Advanced International Studies. Their founder Johannes Urpelainen has done extensive research on the impact that solar power has had on rural and impoverished communities in India. SVP will be implementing our first project in collaboration with ISEP in early 2018, when Johannes and his team will do multiple surveys to help us determine in greater depth the impact our projects are having. With the data derived from these surveys SVP and ISEP will work together to develop even more effective means of bringing light, power and clean water to those most in need.