Laos: Our First Lantern Donations Here Improve the Learning Environment
2014.04.01 Field Report
The hope to bring light to as many people who need it as possible--that feeling led us to expand our commitment to Indonesia. In early March, I visited the island of Sumba to deliver the first 111 units of 1,000 to be donated.
Hello! This is Hal, from the CSR & Citizenship Group.
Indonesia was added as a new destination for lanterns to be donated in the 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project, as the sixth country in this project, after Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Kenya and Philippines. About 1.3 billion people around the world need light, and Panasonic is committed to continue delivering solar lanterns to people who need light. We will expand the areas where we donate lanterns, in order to improve the living standards of people in regions not yet served by electricity.
We are planning to donate 1,000 lanterns in total to the islands of Sabu and Sumba, located in eastern Indonesia. This we did in cooperation with IBEKA (Inisiatif Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan, which in English means People Centered Business and Economic Initiative), a local NGO working to support sustainable communities through the introduction of renewable energy.
As the first step in the donation, I went to Sumba in early March to deliver 111 sets of solar lanterns and lantern shades made from designs received in the Cut Out the Darkness project.
Sumba Island is located an hour and a half by air east of Bali, which is famous for its resorts. The climate on the western side of the island gets a lot of rain and is mild, but the eastern side is drier, influenced by the Australian climate, and has expansive grasslands. This is where we donated lanterns to villages. The island has felt the impacts of excessive logging, overgrazing, and open burning of fields, and forests here only cover about 10% of the land area.
Sumba also has a particularly high proportion of people living in poverty and undernourished children compared to other parts of Indonesia, and more than half the population has no access to electricity.
Two hours' drive from East Sumba District, capital of Waingapu, small villages near the Village of Kamanggih are the destination for this donation. Our vehicle had flat tires twice on the way there. The road was worse than we expected. To reach the furthest village, it takes another two hours driving along steep ridges.
People who live in the villages around here are nearly self-sufficient. They cultivate the limited land area suitable for farming, and live day-to-day with the rhythms of nature. Of course, the electricity grid has not yet made it this far.
IBEKA, our partner in the donation program, was introduced by the Panasonic Innovation Volunteer Team (PIVoT), a program which consists of Panasonic employees aiming to solve local problems by volunteering with local NGOs in emerging economies.
IBEKA works to address energy-related issues and promotes community development by introducing renewable energy, such as micro hydropower and wind power. But their work does not end with just constructing the facilities. IBEKA helps to build local self-sufficiency by offering workshops and providing support for decision-making about how to use the energy the people have generated themselves, as well as maintenance and upkeep of the equipment. The process takes time, but I think that this is really what sustainable aid is all about.
But still only a small proportion of islanders are able to enjoy electricity created this way. This is why we decided to cooperate with IBEKA and donate solar lanterns especially to villages that have no access to electricity.
In the places we visited, villagers were waiting for us everywhere. A donation ceremony was held in each village, and we handed the solar lanterns to the villagers one-by-one.
To select who to donate to, IBEKA members visited individual households and identified families with the most limited financial means, in areas the least likely to get access to the power grid within the next ten years.
For light at night, people use kerosene lamps, but their homes are drafty, being built on stilts and with a simple board construction, so the flame flickers and is not useful for light when the wind blows. An elderly woman who received the solar lanterns gave us a big smile, saying "Wow! This is wonderful. We can use it even when the wind blows!"
After dark, I walked around to the homes where we had donated the solar lanterns, and found that they were already fully in use. With the light, people here were cooking meals, and people there were working. Beside the solar lantern children were studying. Our solar lanterns had already found a variety of uses in their lives.
When you donate a new technology to people who live a more traditional lifestyle, it is important to arrange the donation carefully while having some dialogue with people in local communities about what it means in their lives, and to avoid forcing the technology upon them.
Petrus Lamba Awang, a staff member of IBEKA and also a native of a village that received the donations, shared his thoughts with us.
"People have been using kerosene lamps out of necessity, but the smoke is undermining our health. Also, the price of kerosene as a fuel has risen to become more expensive than gasoline in recent years. Solar lanterns are a precious alternative. They will reduce the economic burden of fuel costs, and we can use the spare money for education and other things."
We are committed to continue lending a hand to help people create their own futures, by providing a little opportunity in the form of light, to tackle the challenges local people are facing.
We will continue to cooperate with IBEKA to keep an eye on what changes the donations of solar lanterns have brought to the lives of the people of Sumba Island.