The Solar Village Project
Posted: Oct 04 2014
The Solar Village Project began a few years ago with my first trip to India. My purpose then was to visit Buddhist historical sites in Northeast India and also to pay homage to my grandfather, who had sought shelter in India from the Nazis for several years during World War II. When I was a child my grandfather told me stories about his time in India, always describing the beauty of the land and the kindness of the people he met. Those stories, coupled with my interest in Buddhism, led to that first journey and eventually to my interest in bringing electricity to a village in India.
My first trip to India in March, 2012 started in Bodh Gaya, Bihar home of the Maha Bodhi temple, one of the most famous Buddhist historical sites. Upon arriving I was greeted by Sunil, who was my local guide for that part of my journey and has since become a very good friend. Sunil recognized that I was interested in more than just visiting popular tourist destinations, and asked if I would like to travel to his family’s village, a few hours outside of Bodh Gaya. I jumped at the chance and early the next morning we left for the village in the Nalanda district of Bihar. It was an amazing experience, to say the least. Although I was a total stranger, his family took me in like one of their own, with a whole-hearted kindness I never could have expected.
After spending most of the day with his family, Sunil asked me if I would like to visit Gauterine village, which was less than a mile down the road. I had noticed the poverty of Sunil’s village, where people make a meager living by subsistence farming on small plots of land behind their homes. But when I saw Gauterine village I realized that life for the people there was even harder. In Gauterine the people don't have any land to farm on and subsist on work as laborers in surrounding brick kilns, making bricks earning less than 2 dollars a day on average.
I saw that in Gauterine many of the homes were constructed of mud with thatch roofs and were generally smaller than the homes of Sunil’s village. There wasn’t a single electrical transmission line running into the village so people had no access to even a minute source of power. When I asked what they did for lighting at night I was told that small kerosene lamps were the only source of light. Although the people didn’t have access to electricity people do have cell phones which they could only charge by traveling to the local market and spending a portion of their limited income to stay connected to the outside world.
What I also noticed was that in the center of Gauterine village is a small school that the government built, a simple concrete structure roughly 5 meters by 8 meters. Although tiny, it has over 100 students registered providing a basic education that ends at level 5 with the different grades are taught at different times of the day. Beyond the four walls and a roof the only thing the school had is a crooked white board and a desk for the teacher. The school also doubles as a meeting hall for the village as well. Upon seeing the school and its lack electricity I immediately thought that I could easily use my skills, knowledge and background in solar power installation to bring electricity to the school. On this first trip I didn't have the time or the resources to bring solar power to the school, but I promised Sunil and the people of Gauterine we would do something soon.
In May 2013, I went back for a third time and Sunil and I installed a 200 watt solar panel, an 850 watt Luminous inverter, and a 100 amp hour battery in the school, along with a ceiling fan, lights inside and out, and power outlets so people could charge their cell phones. We worked well into the night go get the system up and running, but when we turned on the lights for the first time that night, the smiles on the faces of the children said it all. Something that we take for granted was a cause for unparalleled delight in Gauterine.
In September of 2013 I returned to Gauterine bringing with me a few Raspberry Pi computers and a TV to use as a monitor. At that time we also upgraded the system with a bigger battery and 1500 watt Luminous inverter.
This past July, with the help of Sunil, my wife Cristeen, and our technology expert Shyam as well as the many donors who contributed funds on Indiegogo we distributed 75 Luminous Solar Home Lighting systems to every home in the village. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-gauterine-village-solar-project In Gauterine we have a local manager who maintains the school solar system, and he is also responsible for logging any problems with the SHL systems. Part of the deal we made with Luminous is an extended warranty on all parts in order to ensure the people are adequately served.
Upon returning to the states we filed the necessary paperwork with the State of Maryland to start our official NGO, called the Solar Village Project. We are a new organization and we have a lot of work to do to, but we also have an amazing team working together to make a difference. We believe light and electricity is an essential part of adequately ensuring everyone’s quality of life, and it is our goal to help make this a reality for those who are lacking this most basic necessity.
The impact of giving people light and even a basic source of power capable of charging cell phones is monumental. The villagers are now able to work and study at night and enjoy healthier homes since they do not have to burn kerosene which provided poor light at best. They can remain linked to the outside world without having to spend time and money traveling to the market to charge their cell phones. This is just the beginning of the benefits that electricity can provide and over the next 3 years we plan on distributing an additional 5,000 solar home lighting systems to the other villages in need in the Gauterine area.