Thursday, April 2, 2009

Renewable energy for Rural Livelihoods.

On the edge of Rajasthan, marking the border between India and Pakistan, four villages have had their nights lit up by incandescent bulbs running on renewable solar energy. The villages have never been connected to a power grid. The lights they now have are part of the Government of India and United Nations Development Program project ‘Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihoods’ that trained and engaged village women as “Barefoot Solar Engineers” for generating renewable solar energy.

Four young women – one from each village – have assembled these lights from scratch and are paid to maintain and repair them. The Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), a Tilonia-based NGO, which implemented the program in Barmer district of Rajasthan, runs a residential training program for women from selected villages at its campus in Rajasthan.

In the villages there are many still bemused that young women who until a few months ago were like any other – cleaning the yard, fetching water, helping with the cooking – are now called “engineers”. But, they would rather have lights irrespective of who is maintaining them. Each family with a light contributes to a village fund from which their woman “Barefoot Solar Engineer” is paid a salary ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,350 a month. And the villages are full of young girls, who trail their barefoot engineer and watch as she maintains the wires and fuses.

Apart from Rajasthan, this project, was also implemented by UNDP in Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Sikkim.

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