UK charity lights up villages

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Shining Hope provides opportunity for rural women to light up their world


A UK based charity has given three illiterate women from remote villages in Bihar, North-East India, a life-changing opportunity to introduce reliable solar-powered electricity in their communities, in order to transform the lives of their friends and families for generations to come.

The Shining Hope Foundation, which provides grants to specially selected projects across the world, has partnered with charity Karuna-Shechen to fund Phoolmanti Devi, Puja Devi and Lakshmi Devi to attend the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan – 760 miles from their homes – so that they can train to become solar engineers. At the college, these women, who have never left their villages until now, are learning the skills needed to be able to install and maintain solar panels.

Lakshmi Devi from Barsurdi village, Bihar said:

“There is no light in my village; we work in the night with kerosene lanterns, but only until 8 o’clock because kerosene is expensive. Sometimes when it is windy the lamps keep blowing out.”

All three women will soon have completed the six month programme and will return to their villages as ‘Solar Grandmothers’ – a title recognising the senior role they will fulfil back home. By harnessing the power of the sun, Phoolmanti Devi and Puja Devi from Chando will be able to supply electricity to 140 homes and Lakshmi Devi will work between the two villages of Kadul and Barsurdi, bringing electricity to an additional 80 homes.

Once the electricity is installed, they will play a key role in their communities by setting up solar workshops and training other women. In return for their installation, maintenance and repair services, the female engineers will receive a monthly salary from the village solar committee.

What is even more remarkable is that the women will achieve this despite never benefiting from a formal education. The 2011 census for Bihar showed that the state’s female literacy rate was only 46 per cent.

Phoolmanti Devi from Chando village said:

“The trainers are patient – if we can’t learn it one day they tell us we can try tomorrow. They helped me learn my numbers 1-10, because I had not been to school, I did not know them.

“Already I have learnt to install a panel, lamp, lamp circuit, charge circuit and a home light system. These are the five things I know to take back to my village.”

During the programme, the women learn through listening and memorising, using colour-coded charts to learn the permutation and combination of the wires without needing to read or write.

Marie Saint-Arnoult, Trustee and Co-founder of Shining Hope Foundation, said:

“Life without electricity is a harsh reality for many villages in rural India, making simple tasks such as studying, reading, or even going to the bathroom, very difficult.

“We are so proud of Phoolmanti, Puja and Lakshmi Devi for leaving their villages for the first time to take on this challenge.

“The skills these Solar Grandmothers will bring back will benefit the whole village. Children will be able to study at night, midwives can deliver babies more safely, villagers can walk safely at night without fear; and it becomes possible to use mobile phones and refrigerators.”

Money will be saved on kerosene and wood and overall productivity will increase, allowing more time to be devoted to educating villagers. Using solar panels to generate electricity means a considerable reduction in air pollution, fire, health hazards and deforestation.

Marie added: “We also hope these women benefit from greater recognition of their value in society, and a sense of ownership of the solar project. Obtaining a role like this at their age helps to empower them. Thanks to this training, the grandmothers will be able to return to their communities and convey a message of hope, change, and a sustainable future, which will inspire future generations to do the same.”

To improve lives of some of the most vulnerable people in India and the sustainability of the environment, Shining Hope Foundation plans to bring solar electricity to at least one village per year over the next three years.

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