October 30, 2008
Trevor and I have spent a few days in the village, and we’ve included the details of one of the women we interviewed. Her story paints a picture of every day life in the village but we found it was a story of potential rather than pity.
This is Jowallah, a single mother of two, whose husband passed away roughly two years ago. In the 1980’s, when her village was displaced by the construction of a government sponsored hydro-electric dam (ironically the village was never provided electricity), she was allotted one acre of land that provides enough food to last the family four months of the year. Every month, Jowallah receives 200 rupees from her husband’s pension, which equates to roughly 4USD. To fill the remaining nutritional and financial gaps, Jowallah can typically find work breaking stones into gravel, or doing odd jobs in neighboring villages. When the work is available, Jowallah can earn an average income of 500-600 rupees (10-12 USD) per month.
Jowallah owns 1 kerosene lamp that gives off as much light as a small candle. On average, she pays 20-25 rupees per litre of kerosene and consumes approximately 6-8 litres per month. In other words, around 20% of her income is spent on home lighting. To purchase the fuel, Jowallah walks over 4 km (about 2.5 miles) each way and is limited to a ration of 1 litre per trip. Total time lost to buy kerosene is about 3 hours.
When we asked how more light could help her live, the response was surprising and definitely encouraging. Jowallah explained that her last two hours of daylight are often spent preparing dinner, which cuts into the time she could use to make additional money. In a separate interview, Trevor and I learned that with an extra two hours of light per night, the women can make “leaf plates” (literally plates made out of leafs), which they can sell in the nearest city for roughly 10-20 rupees per day, almost doubling their income.
Here’s some video footage of the interview:
Even more surprising, was how inspiring these visits to the villages have become. Jowallah and her neighbors don’t evoke sympathy; they are proud people and very hard workers. They’re held back not by skill or drive, but rather the lack of access to some of the most basic and fundamental tools needed to rise out of poverty. This is likely why the more time that Trevor and I spend with the people in the village, the more value we attach to the solar lanterns. The technology at its core seems so basic, yet we’ve learned the incredible impact a light can have on the dignity and livelihood of the people who use them.
October 22, 2008
I arrived in Dehli last Thursday and it’s been an interesting adjustment thus far. Trevor is clearly the Indian veteran here with over 2 weeks under his belt. But the prevalence of English speakers and their willingness to help has made the transition a bit easier.
I’ll get another entry out about my thoughts and observations on India; this will just be a quick update describing our progress thus far in regards to our objectives.
Outside of the solar lighting company, D.Light Design, we have two contacts that are facilitating our deployment of lanterns to the villages in Orissa. Pranjal is a director of some sort at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (An ashram, from my own observation, is a place to study, meditate, and learn how to live simply. Though some of them are religious in nature, this one is not.) His exact title is unknown, but Trevor and I have given him the unofficial role of “Guru,” owing to the extraordinarily calming influence on everyone around him…as well as a small harem that continually follows him around. He also is the only Indian person I have seen that wears shorts.
The other is Joe, the executive director of Gram Vikas, a well established NGO that has already worked on numerous development projects throughout the area. Joe is somewhat of a big-wig, as foreign governments are flying him to speak at big conferences on sustainable development. But he’s extremely down-to-earth and quite a jokester.
So on Thursday the 23rd, we’ll be flying with 48 solar lanterns (they come in boxes of 12) to Orissa to deploy in Pranjal’s village. Seven to ten days later, 96 units should be arriving at the Gram Vikas headquarters and we’ll head up there to start distributing those. Personally, I’m extremely excited to get out of the city and into the villages so we can start putting into place what we’ve set out to do all along.
October 13, 2008
Holy Cow! (Figuratively speaking, not literally) -This place is cool….India is by far the most fascinating place I have ever seen. It could be the unrelenting heat, the spicy foods, the incessant sound of car horns, the cow cruising in the back of a rickshaw taxi, or maybe, just the mere fact that today I saw two people and two goats all riding on the same motorcycle; whatever it is, it’s difficult to articulate. In short, I can say that there hasn’t been a dull moment.
Last week Pranjal, one of our partners, and I flew to Vishakaputnam and from here we hired a driver to take us to the Koraput District of Orissa. After five hours of what I consider to be, undoubtedly, the scariest car ride of my life, we finally made it to Koraput. Once we arrived in the small dusty little town, we picked up three other people and suddenly Pranjal, without explanation, stepped out of the car and said “I’ll see you there”. Nobody spoke English, and at this point I still wasn’t sure where exactly “there” was.…needless to say, it made for quite an awkward car ride.
After driving for about 15 minutes on a dirt road the car pulled over and we hopped out in the middle of what looked to be nowhere. The three guys picked up the luggage and we proceeded to quietly hike for about one mile to the water where a boat was waiting to take us to the village.
Finally after ten hours of travel we had arrived. The place was absolutely breathtaking. The only building in site was the volunteer housing, which sits on a 30 acre organic farm in the middle of the Indian “tribal” land.
The accommodations were simple, yet much more than I was expecting. There was running water, solar electricity for lighting, a bed and fresh hot food. Overall, the only difficult adjustments for me were the organic vegetarian diet and the absence of toilette paper. I knew the place was just fine, but it wasn’t until the next morning, during my first visit to the villages, that I fully understood how good I had it. The next few days would be eye opening.
Walking into the village for the first time was similar to arriving at a party where nobody knows who you are. At first the villagers stared with curiosity, then gathered with interest and finally, once we explained our intent, offered a much warmer reception.
I spent most of the first day going from village to village, speaking with the people, observing the local dynamics and playing with the kids.
From my short visits with the villagers, I was reassured that we are truly filling a gap in these people’s lives and that they are extremely grateful for the support. So thus far, I think it’s fair to give the project two thumbs up!