An Electrifying Experience In No-Network Kalahandi

An Electrifying Experience

“I do exactly what SRK did in the film Swadesh.” This has been a constant answer trying to explain my work to people for the last year. The next question comes – “Where and how?”

Where?

It is hard to imagine that there are still places with no network coverage in spite of all the ‘network everywhere’ ads by telecom companies. The project location Thuamul Rampur block in Kalahandi district of Orissa being one such place. Often touted ‘Kalapani’ by some, this region in one of the most underdeveloped in the country. Tribal population being the majority, little to no employment possibility is available and agriculture, which has been the primary source of living in this area, brings in very little income owing to a rocky terrain. This is the location I am working in.

How?

After completing my studies, I applied for the SBI Youth for India fellowship in search of something different and I got selected. I joined Gram Vikas in Orissa as a part of this 13-month programme. Within this period, I was supposed to work on a project that would do good to the community and solve a local problem. Thirteen months may seem like a long time but in a place completely new and different, it is not. Language was the first barrier. The first 2-3 months were confusing except when I got more involved with the community and they accepted me. I started to see and identify problems that needed attention.

For the last few months, I have been working on a project aimed at providing 24-hour free, clean and green energy to a village named Karnibel in the aforementioned location. The project is called ‘Micro-Hydro Electricity’ (MHP). Being a hilly region and housing a number of waterfalls and water sources, this is a solution that is local to a problem that is recognized worldwide.

Harnessing the power of water from a nearby waterfall, this MHP generates enough power to keep a small village of 21 households illuminated. Originally, this project had been undertaken by an NGO named Gram Vikas back in 2010. Floods and landslides washed away most part of the project and stopped its functioning years ago. I realised a project like this can be a solution we all need. I started putting efforts to make it functional again.

Mobilizing the community to work to achieve the goals and benefits I foresaw was the toughest job of all. The next was construction in an area where transportation of raw materials is nearly impossible.

There might be a thousand ways of motivating a community, my way was to put endless effort. For months, it was all about reaching the village at sunrise and after some 30 sunrises, the community came together and we all started working. Where tractors could not reach to transport materials our shoulders and heads were used to carry loads. From formal meetings, to carrying stones on our heads, a deep relation with the community somehow grew.

I believe MHPs can be the solution we need and that can be achieved, especially in places where I come from, the North-East.

SBI Youth for India gave me a platform to utilise my education and skills in a way I will always be proud of. When you see the faces of the villagers after they realise something good is going to happen to them, it is a feeling hard to describe. The trust a community puts in you makes you work harder than you ever expected of yourself.

Featured image for representation only. Source: Maneesh Agnihotri/The India Today Group/Getty Images
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