The Rangpur Solar Village Project

In April of 2016 board members Joe Kselman and Cristeen Kselman traveled to Bihar, India to implement the Rangpur Solar Village Project.  This is their story as written by Joe Kselman.

My wife Cristeen and I arrived in Delhi on April 25th around 1 a.m. Although it was April the extreme heat that India is so famous for was already in full swing.  We planned this project for April in order to avoid the worst of the temperatures, but none the less the heat was oppressive. Later that day we flew to Varanasi to meet up with Kapil, one of our local managers. On April 26th we drove to Bihar to get started on the projects.  In the city of Bodh Gaya, Bihar, we met with Sunil, another local staffer, in order to plan for the next few days in the villages.

The first item on the agenda was scheduled for April 27th, distributing 75 new lights and phone chargers in Gauterine, site of our first Solar Village Project. The units we initially distributed there in 2014 had design flaws that lead to expensive maintenance costs.  We found the best solution was to simply replace all the units with ones of a higher quality that we had used the previous year for Kihare Solar Village Project.

Fortunately all of those units had arrived on time and were waiting for us in Rangpur village, so all we had to do was pick them up and head to Gauterine and start the distribution.

A picture from the distribution inside the Gauterine Village School where SVP got it’s start 3 years ago.

Once in Gauterine we were welcomed by a crowd of people eagerly waiting our arrival. The children were especially excited when we showed up, making for a festive atmosphere.  We’ve been working in Gauterine for 3 years now and the people there are always happy to see us; over time many of the faces there have become quite familiar.

After  distributing the lights and registering the names of the families we served, we returned later that evening to see the village at night.  We were very happy with the results. Not only were the new lights shining brightly throughout the village, but we were able to determine that since the initial project in 2014 the people of Gauterine no longer use kerosene. For the villagers, clean bright light had become a necessity instead of a luxury.

One of the lights for the original systems we distributed in 2014 still burning bright.

Some of the kids enjoying their new lights outside the Gauterine School

It is incredibly dark at night.  Words can’t describe how critical clean bright light is.

Besides their rudimentary homes and simple cell phones these lights are the most important piece of property the villagers own.

The first phase of the project was a big success.  We returned to our hotel  that night and started planning for the second phase, distributing solar lighting systems to all 200 homes in Rangpur Village.

On April 29th we set out to Rangpur in order to accomplish our primary objective on this trip, distributing a large central light and two smaller lamps for every home in the village.  After dealing with a shipping issue (renting a pick up truck to bring some of the lights which were wrongly shipped to a town 2 hours away) we were able to begin the project as planned on April 29.

Women and children in Rangpur gather when we arrive to see what is going on!  Note the homes made of mud, with clay tile roofs.

Like the the other villages we’ve worked with in India Rangpur is a Dalit (untouchable caste) village. The primary source of income for the people there is gathering firewood from the nearby mountains and selling it at the local market for a meager sum.

Before starting the distribution Cristeen and I took a walk to visit the Rangpur village school so we could assess the situation there for a planned school electrification project in the not too distant future.

These three photos depict the school.  Electrifying the village school requires more time as well as larger and more expensive technology than electrifying the homes, so that will be a project in the near future.

The sad reality is that the teachers there are poorly trained and paid and have little interest in providing an education. Frequently they don’t even show up at school. Providing the classrooms with a few computers loaded with educational content is probably one of the best ways to give these children a chance for some education.  As is always the case in rural villages, the problems in Rangpur go well beyond a lack of electricity.

After visiting the school we went back to Rangpur to begin the distribution of solar units. Before distributing the lights we registered each recipient to ensure that one house didn’t receive 2 sets of lights.

Here you can see our local manager Pappu collecting the ration cards and writing down the info on our registry.  Once the registration process was finished each person was called one by one to come and collect their lights.

Our local manager Sunil distributing the lights.  Each family received one large light (with a phone charger) for providing ample light inside the home and 2 smaller lights for the kids to study by at night and carry with them outside in the dark.

A few of the boys from Rangpur who are very excited about their new lights.

After completing the distribution of lights in Rangpur we proceeded to Kihare village to do a site assessment and evaluation of last year’s project.

Kihare is not far from Rangpur but they are both extremely isolated due to the fact that both villages only have one road in and out and in both cases the roads are barely traversable even in good conditions as you can see here.

Upon arriving in Kihare we started visiting individual homes to assess the status of last year’s project.  We were pleasantly surprised by the results.

Every home we visited reported that their lights were working well and that they were no longer using kerosene for light.

As was the case with Gauterine the people of Kihare had come to see their lights a necessity.

A set of lights charging away in the bright sun.

A cell phone is being charged.  This is something that used to require a day- long journey to the nearest market.

After visiting multiple homes in Kihare we headed back to our hotel to rest for a couple of hours. Besides implementing the Rangpur project and visiting the other villages, we also had plans to officially register SVP in Bihar on this trip.  In order to do so we had to fulfill a number of requirements starting with holding our first formal SVP India board meeting, which took place later that night.

The next morning we returned to Rangpur for a post implementation assessment, and to interview some of the people of the village.  The interviews are being translated now and will be uploaded when they are finished so you can hear first hand about life in Rangpur.

As always, these projects are only possible thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors and volunteers working together to make the idea of SVP a reality.  For this particular project we were fortunate enough to have the assistance of Mia Monell from The Minga Foundation and her classmates from the Cass Business School in London.  They ran a student-led fundraiser on our behalf and through their hard work they generated over $7,000 in funding for the Rangpur project. In total we  to raised over $15,000 which meant that we were able to implement our biggest project yet, as well as replace all the lights in Gauterine. We also began developing our capacity as an organization by initiating its registration as a charity in India,  which is important to the long term growth and success of Solar Village Project.  For Solar Village Project and those we serve the future continues to look brighter and brighter.