At around 6 p.m. in the evening, I reached the house of Bilei Behera in the Muniguda block of Rayagada district in Odisha. It was almost dark by then and there was no power in Bilei Behera’s house. In general, women wait for the electricity supply to resume before they start to cook food. But Bilei was cooking food with the help of solar lantern she bought with a loan from Milaap. I soon realized that it wasn’t a blackout but Bilei’s family lives in a small mud house which doesn’t have access to the power grid at all. So, the solar lantern is the only source of light for her family of six consisting of Bilei, her husband, her 3 children and her father-in-law. They rely on it to do any household work, to cook food, to eat dinner, and many other ad-hoc activities after dark. More importantly, they use it as a bed light for Bilei’s new born daughter.
Her husband works as a mason in Muniguda and earns about Rs.300 on a typical work day. However, the availability of work fluctuates often and so do his earnings. Bilei used to make and sell leaf plates at her home but she stopped it since she had to rest for long when she was pregnant. Previously, the family relied on kerosene lamps but the government would provide them only 2 liters of fuel at a subsidized rate. This quantity would barely last for a week or 10 days and they had to purchase it at a high cost if they needed more. The Milaap loan and the solar light they bought with it, therefore, eased the financial burden on the family. The solar light became such an essential part of Bilei’s family, that Mr. Mahendra, the MSF staff who accompanied me recalled his experience replacing the solar lantern at the spur-of-the-moment when they encountered an issue with it.
Bilei Behera in her kitchen with her solar lantern