The path from darkness to light | Milaap

The path from darkness to light

Being brought up in a metropolitan city and having all the comforts of life, there are many things which I took for granted. Access to 24/7 electric supply being one of them. Power-cuts are a rare occurrence and even that is negated with the back-up generator. Moreover, the supply is restored within a couple of hours. Working as a fellow for Milaap helped me take a peek into the lives of people for whom power-cut is common phenomenon. During Fellowship, I am closely working with Mahashakti Foundation, a field partner of Milaap, and go on field visits to interact with borrowers. During these visits, I traveled to remote villages where people get electric supply for just a couple of hours daily. Hearing about the way they adjust their schedule and plan their activities to complete the more important ones before sunset surprised me to a great extent.

Kerosene lamps, a common source of illuminating the evenings for the households in Rural Odisha

To understand the gravity of their problems we need to understand how difficult life becomes when one has to get up early morning every day and planning out everything to finish it before darkness sets in. Think of the plight of women who work under the dim light of kerosene lamps to finish their household chores, school going children not getting adequate time to study, the anxiety of parents for the health of their children due to the harmful smoke of the kerosene lamp. The high cost of kerosene is also a burden on the limited financial resources. The fuel comes at the cost of INR 50 per liter and each household had to fork out INR 350-400 every month. Moreover, it being a fire hazard is also something which can’t be ignored. Mindful of its negative impacts certain households adopted candles to light their homes in evenings.

The solar lamp and its charging panel

The panacea to their problems arrived in the form of the solar lamp. Getting access to the solar lamp became a possibility courtesy of the energy loan from Mahashakti Foundation, field partner of Milaap. The solar lamps are capable of providing light for a minimum of 6 hours in normal mode which is more than adequate time for the families to cater to their household chores. The monthly installments on the solar lamp are comparatively lower than the amount spent on kerosene. It provides the household with a much brighter source of illumination as well as access to clean energy. A new innovation made in the design of the solar lamp is that it has a port to facilitate charging of cell-phone batteries.

For Guadei Shabar, the solar lamp is key to their children's education

Not only does it provide for brightening their households and catering to their domestic needs, but the solar lamp also has different utility for different people. For many, it is the key to their children's education. Take the case of Guadei Shabar, who despite financial difficulties had managed to finance the education of her children and harbors the dream of seeing them get educated.  A major hurdle in her achieving her objective was from the frequent power cuts robbing her children of several productive hours in the evening. "Since my children were gearing for their higher secondary and secondary examination I used to worry for them," said she.  After buying a solar lamp things have now changed for the better. She informed me that her children now are able to study for more than 4 hours in the evening and it was a major reason for her elder son scoring first division.
"The solar lamp has not only brightened our evenings but our lives as well", Meena Deep
For females such as Meena Deep, the solar lamp has helped her family in multiple ways. Her savings have increased, she does not have to stress her self out planning the activities for the next day and nor does she have to worry about the health issues of her children. " Not only has it lightened our evenings but our lives as well" was her assessment about the impact of having a solar lamp. Many villagers spoke with happiness radiating from their voices about the number of things they are now able to do due to the solar lamp. The solar lamp has also helped in raising the livelihood of many families by enabling them to have more time on their hands. Dipa Bag, a resident of Balangir district, who is a tailor by profession, told me that several women in her village are able to get earn more by working in the evenings which was not possible before.

Many women like Dipa Bag, a tailor, use the solar lamps to increase their livelihood

Apart from all these benefits, a major advantage has been that the perspectives of people have changed. They have become more aware of the needs and benefits of adopting switching to renewable energy. The field officers at various branches that I visited informed me how earlier they couldn’t install solar power-grids in many villages due to the resistance from the villagers. However, today these very people are coming forward and providing all possible support for installation of these grids at the earliest. “Seeing the benefits of a single solar lamp in their home has made them understand the advantage of having solar power-grids in their villages,” said Amit Tandi, a field officer on my recent visit to M.Rampur branch of Mahashkti Foundation. He took me to some of the villages where solar-power grids have been installed.

The ground reality is that the things which we take for granted in our daily lives are not available to many people. There may be multiple reasons behind it and no concrete solution to it. Small steps such as providing a solar lamp to rural folks and then working with them to broaden their horizons is a good start. The key lies in understanding their needs and making them see the advantage of adopting something different and something new. Herein, lies the importance of working closing with micro-finance institutes as well as non-governmental organizations for their penetration into the rural areas is greater and the villagers do not see them as outsiders. The presence of companies such as Milaap raises hopes that more such work will be undertaken in the future. Further research into these aspects is bound to help in developing more holistic approaches towards improving the quality of life of rural India.