Letter from the Field

October 8, 2009

I know it’s been a while since our last post, but I promise that our silence does not mean inaction.  Quite the contrary.  Over the last months, a handful of exciting things have happened: we were included in a very creative and selfless fundraiser where a Bride and Groom requested Solar Lights as wedding presents; we expanded on the partnerships that were started last year; we learned that the Koraput villages where we worked in 2008 have repaid 100% of the Solar Loans; and to top it off, we sent lights to 200 more families.  We also received a particularly inspiring letter from a friend who visited a village where Beyond Solar distributed lights last year.  Read on…

Hi Jeff,

I took a trip to Puki village this morning and one of the first things I noticed was all the solar panels charging on the tops of the huts.  I got to speak to Dalimbo Khosla, one of the purchasers of your lights. He was very friendly and happy to talk to me about the light.  Anyway, most of the things he reported I noticed you already have posted on your site (being able to see the insects in the food, saving money from kerosene, children reading at night, adults being able to do household works (pounding the grain) in the evening so they can all earn their daytime wages, the ability to fetch missing goats & sheep). There were, however, a few other things he discussed and a couple other observations I had that I thought I would share with you.

I wouldn’t call Dalimbo ‘elderly’, but he is definitely getting ‘up there’ in his years and he mentioned his eyesight was starting to fail him.  I imagine a good optometrist is hard to find in Puki.  So the brightness of the d.light lamps versus the kerosene lanterns he was using was especially valuable to him.  He was laughing about how at night he couldn’t see any of the things in his home – pots, cups, rags, mats until he got his solar light (which, by the way, he has displayed in his home like a prized possession and it looks like new).

I also want to make another point – you probably gathered this already in your trips to the field but I’ve heard it enough times that I’ll mention it here anyway.  In almost every village I’ve been to so far, they’ve complained about the constant kerosene shortages in addition to the spiking costs of kerosene.  Many times villagers would have to face a total black-out at night when there wasn’t any kerosene available.  Not to mention the rising prices taking a severe toll on their livelihoods.  Now, they have a light source they can rely on…and it really does make life easier for them.

Next thing that was interesting was that they claimed to use the lights at night to gather, sing and dance. Most of the villagers are day laborers, so the village is quite empty during the daytime. Its nice to think they are able to gather together in the evenings, enjoy each other and do their cultural activities. It must strengthen the bond of the community, prolong their unique traditions and it seems to be one of their biggest life pleasures.

The last thing I asked him was if any of the villagers ever argue over the lights. He shared that there are some villagers who are angry that they didn’t buy any while you were here and that now they’ve lost their chance. They have saved the money and are very anxious to get their own lights. Dalimbo has also saved money for another light, as he would like to keep the current one inside the home, and procure another for roaming around the village at night. As I was leaving,
there were some people there from a neighboring village  saying that they are upset that their village wasn’t given the opportunity to purchase the solar lights. Clearly, the word has spread and everybody wants to get in on it. Your future customers are here.

I want to say kudos to you, your partner and your donors for doing this project. I know you & I had discussions while you were here about what the impacts of the lights would be and I promised I’d get myself out there and find out. Well, I finally did and I am really blown away by the impacts of the lights. Those villages I’ve visited without the lights clearly struggle in the evening and when asked, their biggest wish is to one day have electricity. For the villages where you have
offered lights, they have made one giant (and environmentally responsible) step forward.

Oh, and in case you were wondering whether or not you should continue to raise funds, whether the lights really are making a difference, I’ve got to say a big YES! YES! YES! I know you said yourself you’re not much of a ‘do-gooder’-type person, but damn, you’ve done good.

All the best,
Debbie

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Getting the ball rolling…

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.

India – Week One

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!

 

 

 

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