By Shikhar Goel for The Happy Light Project:
While there are many of us in cities and towns who take electricity for granted, there are many others for whom even a few hours of electricity is a distant dream. Happy Light Project, a non-profit organisation, was founded to aid the lesser privileged sections of the society. Its co-founders, Calvin Pinto, Philip Thomas and M. Kishan, believe that it is important to not only provide electricity to a group of lesser privileged people but also help enable them to fulfil their own needs in the long-term.
Philip, who had interned with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, had seen some of their stellar work with solar electrification. Realising the need for similar work in India, he teamed up with Calvin, a like-minded friend from college and after spending time researching and talking to experts, they identified that Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan were states that were in most need of rural electrification. They zeroed in on Odisha, as they found that while several organisations were working in other states, Odisha had largely gone unnoticed.
Along the way, they brought in their friend, Kishan and formed an association with TERI (The Energy and Resource Institute) which in turn connected them to the Mahashakti Foundation. The Mahashakti Foundation had extensive knowledge about villages in Odisha because of their decade-long presence in the state working on multiple social welfare projects.
With Mahahshakti Foundation’s help, Happy Light Project shortlisted three villages in Odisha where the plan could be implemented. Upon visiting the villages and talking to the villagers, they selected the village of Gotiguda as there existed the scope to create maximum, long-term impact there.
Gotiguda is a small village of only sixteen households, comprising a total of sixty-five people. The villagers are all artisans of the Dokhra metal arts craft. Because of their electricity woes, the villagers can only work during bright daylight and do not have access to polishing machinery that can enhance their products. Had they had such access, they wouldn’t have to sell their artefacts at significantly lower margins. This vicious circle has kept Gotiguda below the poverty line.
Happy Light Project wants to break this circle and empower the villagers by installing a solar micro-grid in the village. This would ensure electricity in all its sixteen households. They would also provide the village with one polishing machine and several lighting solutions.
The villagers would now be able to sell polished products at higher prices or earn a higher margin. The lighting solutions would lead to increased working hours for the craftsmen and create better conditions for children to study in. There would be less dependency and expenditure on kerosene, which in turn will also protect the villagers from the harmful effects of kerosene emissions. In the long run, the youth of the village who migrated to other states for work could return as Gotiguda itself will have opportunities to offer.
The whole solar micro-grid project revolves around the sense of community ownership. It is important that the villagers feel responsible towards the project. Also, the purpose of the project will be self-defeating if the villagers have to rely on external help for minor maintenance. To address these issues, Happy Light Project will set up an electrification committee comprising of few villagers from within the village. The members of the committee will collect a small amount of money from the villagers on a weekly basis for plant maintenance. To ensure it is not a burden, the amount will be less or equal to what the villagers were spending on kerosene. The members of the électrification committee will be trained on minor grid operations, general maintenance and peripheral repairs. For slightly bigger issues, electricians from a neighbouring town are being specially trained. For bigger issues, Mahashakti Foundation will always be available with their onsite support team.
Happy Light Project has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Ketto.org and managed to garner a lot of attention. It has raised more than half of its goal of Rs. 8,11,100/- in a short span of time. You could help empower a village and rescue them from the clutches of poverty. The project, which started in May 2016, is expected to finish by mid-December 2016, provided it doesn’t run short on its expected funding. Happy Light Project is striving for a brighter New Year 2017 for the people of Gotiguda.
You can contribute here.