Brighter Days For a Remote Village
In the remote, mountainous village of Bargaun in the Hulma region of Nepal, Solar Mama Laiku Lama has been providing marginalized communities with solar energy. These villages, nestled into the breathtaking backdrop of the incomparable Himalayas, are hundreds of kilometres from grid accessibility. It is considered one of the most isolated and most underdeveloped regions in Nepal, reached only by foot or small plane. Only one hospital and two primary schools accommodate the locals of the entire district.
Most of its inhabitants have lacked affordable, clean energy options. But as of December 2021, over 2100 villagers are benefitting from newly provided solar energy. Solar Mama Laiku is able to assemble, install and repair Solar Home Lighting Systems independently with the knowledge she’s gained, enabling the community to manage its own energy needs consistently. This level of autonomy results in overall greater prosperity.
48 years young and mother of 3, today Laiku is a Solar Mama, trained by Barefoot College International. She is one of more than 2000 women who have been embarked on this unique journey to become solar engineers with little to no previous formal education. For 6 months in 2018, she and two other Nepalese Solar Mamas trained in the arid Rajasthani climate in India, leaving their families and lifestyles behind. They left their communities, their country and culture and boarded a plane all for the first time in their lives.
Solar Mama Switches the Lights on For Rural Nepal
The women returned home confident and motivated to give back using their new skills. In December of 2021, Solar Mama Laiku and two Nepalese women installed 220 Solar Home Lighting Systems with support from Barefoot College International, Women Light the World, the New Zealand High Commission, Mega Bank and Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme of United Nations Development Programme in the villages.
Initially, Solar Mama Laiku was hesitant about studying in India. She wasn’t confident that she had what it took to become a solar engineer. As with many indigenous communities, it is the men who typically leave the villages to generate income while the women are expected to stay behind to maintain the houses. When women receive employable skills, however, they are much more likely to return to their villages to give back to the community, unlike men who tend to take up urban residences once they have left. It was for her community that she decided to say yes.
Laiku in fact had never been to a school to learn and is illiterate. That didn’t dissuade her from her studies once she was offered the opportunity to travel to India to enrol in Barefoot College International’s solar engineering program. It is tailored to accommodate rural women regardless of their educational backgrounds and addresses any challenges with language barriers. Solar Mama Laiku’s family are farmers. She and her husband grow apples. Before Barefoot, Laiku was engaged in the orchard full-time. Like many rural farmers, their harvests still had them struggling with the daily costs of living.
It is unimaginable for me as an illiterate woman to be able to install lighting in my community. And it was even more astonishing to have gone all the way to India for this opportunity, to receive the training that enabled me to help my own people. Thank you to Women Light The World and Barefoot College International, as this could not have happened without them.
– Solar Mama Laiku Lama
The Rippling Benefits of a Solar Mama
Solar Mama Laiku’s nervousness dissipated quickly once classes had begun, training alongside women from several countries and cultures. She remembers the other Solar Mamas she studied with fondly. The structure of the program helps women to build solidarity and courage together, sharing their international insights and wisdom. Together, they learned about things such as circuitry, entrepreneurial skills, women’s rights, health and safety, how to use cellphones, English classes and environmental stewardship.
Children have reported studying three times longer than previously with solar-powered sources of light. Their grades improve and their drive to continue studying is boosted. Girls, who are most likely to drop out, remain encouraged to study. Children, who otherwise often rely on kerosene or candles to study during the dark evenings, often complain that such light sources are inadequate for reading. The solar lights, on the other hand, are so bright that every child has praised them.
Why We Train Women
When asked about what benefits the light has brought to Bargaun, Solar Mama Laiku says that they no longer have to work or cook in the dark. The light from the lighting systems and lanterns is far brighter than kerosene lamps were able to provide. The toxic fumes from the old burning lamps have been eliminated, making it clearer and easier to breathe.
Laiku Lama has a strong desire to empower other women from her community. She has witnessed the potential of knowledge, solidarity and maintaining a healthy environment. To share what she’s learned is a passion of hers, and many women who are trained echo this incentive. This results in a ripple effect for each woman who is trained through BCI, amplifying the teachings of the workshops. Their communities also see the potential women have, thus will support them as well.
This project, in partnership with Women Light the World and Bodhi Tree Foundation Humla, aims to train an additional 10 women to become Solar Mamas and bring solar energy to a total of 600 households in 2022. These homes will be from the remotest, most marginalized communities in Nepal.
You can contact us to support this ongoing initiative to assist more villages to attain clean, affordable, renewable light.