Cambodia: Impact of Lanterns Heard through Recipient Voices and Seen by Numbers
The following is a report from ASAC. Solar lanterns are starting to change lives in rural communities where infrastructure development tends to be delayed, and darkness comes as the sun goes down.
Dear Friends at Panasonic,
This is Fukumi Urata of the Association of School Aid in Cambodia (ASAC).
People in rural areas of Cambodia have been making good use of the solar lanterns that you donated. Here, I will describe living conditions and how solar lanterns are being used in one of our project areas, an off-grid area called the Trop Commune, in the Batheay District, Kampong Cham Province, in southeast Cambodia.
Cambodia has achieved dramatic growth in recent years. However, life in the rural areas that account for 80% of the nation's population remains poor, and many are being left behind on the path of development. One of the causes of hardship is their low level of literacy. ASAC builds schools, provides literacy education, and distributes books to children unable to attend school due to poverty, as well as to adults who have grown up without the opportunity to receive an education. (See here for details: "Raising the Literacy Rate in Rural Cambodia") Solar lanterns provide light during the evening classes for village people who work busily in the fields during the day.
ASAC is holding its twentieth literacy education class in Trab commune. In the class are students who were not able to read, ranging from 15 to 45 years old. November in Cambodia marks rice-harvesting season. Despite the backbreaking work that these people do during the day, they come committed to learn how to read and never miss a class.
The two-hour class starts at dusk at 6 pm and goes until 8 pm. As the class proceeds, darkness starts falling and it is pitch black outside by the time students end their studies for the day. In that darkness, the bright light of the solar lanterns is like a light of hope shining down on these students, who are so determined to learn how to read.
Vice-principal of Trop Primary School and father of three, Vun Sovan uses the solar lantern with the entire family.
"Until now, everything was dark at night and we stumbled around in the darkness for whatever we did. Now, thanks to the solar lantern, I can use my time after coming home from work to prepare materials for school. My wife uses the lantern to prepare dinner, my children use it for studying at night, and they can now go to the bathroom in the backyard safely at night. We are all very happy."
Pheng Sok, a small shop owner, grew up in a poor home and was forced to quit school in second grade. Until now, Pheng could not even read or write the names of the products she sold, but now that she attends the ASAC literacy classes, she is gradually learning how to read and write. This has contributed to better management of products and increased sales.
The solar lantern also plays a pivotal role in her life. "I turn the lantern on in the evening and keep the shop open so that more customers will come. After I close the shop and finish the housework, I use the lantern to read bedtime stories to my three-year-old son."
The solar lanterns light up the darkness in rural areas. They are helping out in various facets of daily life by giving off light powered by the sun. In addition to helping children study, they provide encouragement and support to adults who have the desire to learn more and improve their lives. Some say that depending on the price, they would like to purchase a lantern for themselves if and when they are available on the market.
The solar lanterns give new opportunities to people and help them take on new challenges. They will continue to shine on the hearts of people in rural areas as their "light of hope."