Written by our fellow, Surya who is working closely with our field partner Mahashakti in Bolangir, Odisha. Blackouts. The moment we experience them, our frustration sets in. Devoid of electricity, our lives come to a standstill. In India, blackouts (or power-cuts as they are commonly known) are so frequent that people learnt to accept them as part of their daily routine. Depending on the locality- urban, semi-urban or rural- blackouts vary in their duration: from minutes to hours. For many of us urban folks, a few minutes of blackout seem like an eternity. But, what if the blackouts really continue to be eternal? A shocking 400 million Indians have no access to grid based electricity. Every time I came across this statistic, I wondered where in this nation these people live.
Millet plantations on way to RayagadaAfter meeting the energy loan borrowers in Muniguda, I headed to Rayagada along with the Branch Manager Mr. Mahendra Sethi on his vehicle. We meandered along the road with green hills on either sides, and very often I could catch a glimpse of countryside dotting Ragi (millet) plantations. After an hour’s journey, we reached Rayagada where I met 3 borrowers: 2 who purchased solar lanterns and 1 who purchased cook stove with the micro-loans. What really made this field visit particular is my interaction with Ms. Himarika Santi. She is one of those 400 million unfortunate Indians who do not know what it is like to have access to electricity. She lives with 6 other members of her family in a poor locale about 5 km from Rayagada town.The family lives in a thatched house with cement flooring and covered with tarpaulin on its sides. All the members are involved in labour works. The fluctuating nature of work-availability and hence, their income never gave them an opportunity to improve their lives. Himarika Santi borrowed a loan and purchased a solar lantern with the help of Milaap and Mahashakti Foundation. She charges it every day from morning to evening and then uses it from 6 in the evening till 9 or 10 in the night. Even on a cloudy day, she is able to charge the device, though there is a slight deviation in performance and brightness of the light.The family is very happy with the product. In view of their poverty, I was curious to ask if the loan was any sort of financial burden to the family. When I did put this question to the lady, her husband who was keenly listening to our conversation, replied instantaneously: “No, not at all. We waited for the government to help us, but in vain. This loan is all that helped us. Once it turns dark, the lantern is a great asset to our family. Though the amount required to purchase the lantern is out of our reach, we never felt that the loan was a burden given the utility of the light and the easy repayment option”.
Ms. Himarika Santi with solar lantern outside her houseThis was the last interview of my first field visit and I was greatly delighted with my experience. Seeing is believing! I got to see with my own eyes, the quantum of impact crowd-funded micro-loans can have in real. Yet, this road to social change still remains less travelled. In a world, where financial investments are considered merely to seek a premium, this comes as no surprise. However, the growing patronage of such social enterprises as Milaap makes me optimistic. As I walked out of the area, I remembered the Milaap’s campaign organised in association with Arc Finance during Diwali last year to raise micro-loans exclusively for the purchase of solar lanterns. For the potential social change it can bring about, I wish Diwali came every month and one day, not very far, there shall be light in the lives of all those 400 million Indians.