Solar power brings hope for the future

SELCO IWitness
IWitness trip to SELCO Foundation, India. Photo by Sue Harrison.

Words can’t really describe my elation when I learned I had been accepted on the IWitness trip to India but suffice it to say that I was thrilled to have the opportunity.

During the preparations, I knew I would see a vibrant country, people of varied backgrounds, and cultures and lifestyles very different from mine. What I couldn’t know, however, was how much of an impact the trip would have on me, my values and my ideas about what constitutes a ‘good’ life.

One of the main themes of the trip was around the world of work and I was fascinated by the various types of employment I saw. This included pottery making, dairy farming, tailoring and blacksmithing. I visited a pottery village, where the introduction of solar power had allowed the pottery wheels and kilns to be mechanised.

Keeping traditional skills alive

I was lucky enough to have a chance to throw pots (and it is fair to say that throwing a pot manually and using the solar-powered wheel are very different experiences!). Even more importantly, the workers had seen their profits treble after the introduction of solar power. However, many of these traditional skills are in decline, as younger people are looking more towards gaining an education and are less inclined to follow in the family business. I had concerns about the sustainability of such a business but was more hopeful when I saw that SELCO’s intervention in providing solar power solutions could make such work not only more profitable, but attractive as a career.

An even more eye-opening visit was to a migrant-labourers’ village in Mullikate, Baindur. The village consists of 13 portable houses (provided by the SELCO Foundation), which house around 60 men, women and children. The houses are small, but provide shelter, solar-powered light and a family home. The team interacted with the families (who were very proud of their new homes!), we helped paint the houses, and we sang and danced with the children. It was humbling to see that although the people had very few possessions, they appeared to be happy in their lives.

Encouraging independence

Perhaps for me, the highlight of the tour was the wonderful morning I spent at Narayana school for children and young adults with learning difficulties. The school has been partially supported by the SELCO Foundation, and innovations include the introduction of solar-powered streetlamps and indoor lighting, four new classrooms and a Digital Educational Programme.

The school is staffed by some of the most dedicated and caring teachers and assistants that you could ever meet, and we were impressed by how the children are encouraged, guided, taught and cared for. Students are encouraged to be as independent as possible and study a wide array of subjects. It was a joy to watch the children learn, and we watched them perform a dance routine that had been recorded and played for us through the solar-powered projector.

I will always remember one student in particular, Poornima, as she patiently taught us how to make perfect little roses. Poornima makes the roses to sell, which in turn make her self-sufficient. My experience in Narayana school was delightful—from start to finish—and I feel privileged to have had an experience that I will remember forever.

Living more sustainably

So, I’m back home now, but home now feels slightly ‘foreign’ to me. I look at my (IKEA!) kitchen, my tiled bathroom and my comfortable bed and think about the people I met—how little they have, how much they wanted to share, and the differences between our lives. I have been hugely privileged to have this experience and have been left with one question: ‘How can I help? What can I do to impact ‘sustainability’ in my own life, and that of others?’ I don’t know—but I hope to learn.

    Angela Renwick