Field Report by Niroj Shreshta

A day in a life of a girl living in the villages of Nepal can be quite challenging. The thought of getting up in the morning, taking a bus to school, learning, coming back home to play and do homework is a luxury they can only dream of.  Instead, these girls wake up at the crack of dawn to go fetch water and other housework, they may have to walk almost an hour to get to school and upon return, they are expected to do even more household chores and look after their siblings.

A day in the life of Sushmita. This is not an uncommon scenario for girls in villages.

By the time these girls finish all of their chores, it is dark outside. In most rural areas, it is almost as dark inside because most homes don’t have electricity and those that do usually don’t have any light due to the constant power cuts. These challenges could put off anybody on reading, writing, and finishing homework, but our Rukmini scholars persevere, and by the dim light of a candle or a kerosene lamp, manage to complete their homework and get lost in the world of books.

Nepal, as an underdeveloped country, does not have a stable source of power and has electricity rationing, called “load shedding”, which can cut power out for anywhere from 10- 20 hours a day, depending on the season. People living in “suburban” areas like Pharping face critical problems as they don’t have the economic capacity to afford alternative energy source like invertors or solar back-ups. Rukmini scholars, who live in Pharping and surrounding communities, often rely on kerosene and candle lighting for doing their household chores and homework after sundown.

To address this challenge, Rukmini Foundation is working with Sumar Lakhani Foundation on a pilot project focused on distributing solar lamps to Rukmini scholars. Solar lights have proven to be a very good alternative source of electricity.These lamps have been developed by Unite to Light, are easy to use with rechargeable AA battery, and have been made to last for at least a decade or more.

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Solar Study Lights – Manufactured by Unite to Light and provided by Sumar Lakhani Foundation

As part of a pilot program, Rukmini Foundation distributed 21 solar lights, 2 big solar bulbs and 19 study lights. We are so grateful to our friends at Sumar Lakhani Foundation for providing these to us for no cost, and thank our wonderful friend Ms. Katie Brown for personally delivering them to our team in Nepal. The bigger bulbs are big enough to light up an entire room, while the small study light can be used by individual scholars to study. Manisha Tamang and Junu Tamang, the students of Arunodaya Higher Secondary school, received bigger solar lamps based on the need for them and their families. Both of the students live in a small bamboo home, where they did not get adequate lighting, and neither families have any other option for electricity. The other 19 scholars who received the study lights were selected on the basis of the condition of their homes and availability of alternative electricity.

receiving solar lamp by manisha with dazzling face. (2)

Manisha, one of the recipients of the larger Solar bulbs, smiles when she came to collect her new study lamp.

Out team members visited most of the houses of scholars to see how the lamps were being utilized and the results they saw were very gratifying. Anjana Poudel, who received the smaller study light, expressed her happiness in using the lamp. “I used to get headache due to the dim light of the candle while studying,” Anjana said. ”I am glad I now have this lamp and I don’t have to study by the candle light anymore.”  Her mother also told us that the lamp has multiple uses, “The lights are small and handy and when Anjana is not using it to study, I can also sometimes use it in the kitchen to cook food.”

Anjana poudel with solar lamp (1)

Anjana (center) smiles as she starts doing her homework with the use of a solar powered study light. Anjana now hopes this study light will be bright enough so that she won’t have to strain her eyes.

Candle and kerosene lamps are seen in most of the households in Pharping, however they are not a safe option for children. Kerosene lamps are known to cause several health problems and candle lights can be dangerous as it may cause accidental fire. Both of these alternative sources of electricity do not give enough light for our scholars to actually study. Nirupa shared her dislike of using kerosene lamps for daily use. “I used to get throat aches due to the fumes from the kerosene lamp. I am super happy to get this solar study light, it is enough for me to do homework, I can stay late at night to study, and I don’t have to use a kerosene lamp anymore!”

nirupa with solar lamp (2)

Nirupa is very excited to have received this solar study lamp – she can now say goodbye to the kerosene lamps!

Introducing an innovative approach to sustainable development

While solar power is a great alternative during electricity-cuts, it can also be one of the most expensive options. Our scholar Asmita’s mother had once attempted to buy solar panels and lights, but they were not affordable for her family. “I went to the market to purchase a solar system. I wanted to help my daughter be able to study, but I didn’t know how expensive they were. I was told it would cost RS 11,000 ($110). I never dreamt that we could ever own anything like it,” she exclaimed.

While these lamps, bulbs, and batteries also carry a charge, we are going to make them just as affordable as their current lighting solution, whether it is candlelight or kerosene lamps. This is thanks to the brilliant approach that the Sumar Lakhani Foundation has implemented in various other areas like Tanzania, Cambodia, and others. We will collect — in installments — roughly the same amount that these families would pay through their traditional means. Once these installments cover the entire cost of the lamp / bulb / batter, it is the family’s to use as they see fit with no additional payments. This allows the family to have a superior lighting solution while keeping their costs the same.

Asmita sunuwar with solar light (2)

Asmita gets comfortable doing her homework under the solar light. Her family is happy that the Sumar Lakhani Foundation has made these solar lamps affordable to them.

While most of our scholars and their families were open to the idea of buying the lamp with monthly installment plan, some families were not convinced. Smriti Balami, our scholar living in Talku village also received the opportunity to buy the lamp. Initially her mother did not understand why the foundation was asking for money, especially when there were cheaper alternatives such as rechargeable torches and “cheap” solar lamps in the market. However, our team was able to convince her to try out our approach and take part in the project by showing that the overall durability of these lamps will result in a lower cost to the family overall. Furthermore, this approach does not cost her more than what she is paying already, and her family would have complete ownership of these lamps once the installments are paid off. When our team visited Smriti’s house, they were pleasantly surprised to see that Smirti’s mother was very happy with how helpful the lamp was for her daughter’s studies.

mothers of our scholars visited office to take solar lights

Rukmini Scholars mothers came to collect the solar lamps on behalf of their daughters while also learning more about the lamp’s usage and the payment program.

This Solar lamp pilot phase has seen a great start and the foundation is very grateful to the Sumar Lakhani Foundation for providing this opportunity for our scholars. The demands and expectations placed on students are also getting higher. Teachers are assigning more homework and parents are expecting their children to perform well and get good grades. These solar lamps will give each of these scholar the opportunity to best use what little time they have in their challenging daily lives. It is our goal as a foundation to provide every advantage we can provide in order to give them hope for a brighter future through education.

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