Through UNHCR’s successful resettlement programme in Nepal, more than 90% of Bhutanese refugees have been resettled. Along with the resettlement, UNHCR has been seeking alternative solutions and enhancing the links between the local community and refugees who are still living in the camps. To make this transition happen, UNHCR is funding small infrastructure projects and building the capacity of both refugees and local communities to find sustainable solutions to shared daily challenges.
It was a big surprise for me to learn that UNHCR plays multiple roles to improve people’s living situation, not only for the refugees but also for the local communities, especially by taking a sustainable approach as long term solution. I was very curious about it and, at the same time,I am proud that the IKEA Foundation supports those projects through its Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign.
We visited the local community to see one of the sustainable solutions; solar cookers and bio-gas. They welcomed us with food cooked by solar cooker, which makes boiled water in 10 minutes and cooks beans in one hour. The beans and taros we tasted were warm enough and I could not tell it was cooked by solar cooker without seeing it. Bio-gas generated by livestock waste is also used for cooking. This waste is recycled as compost afterwards. It is a simple solution but that’s why anyone can use it and it is definitely an environmentally friendly solution, without using firewood. I am sure that it makes people’s lives much easier as they were proudly and happily explaining it and sharing the dish with us.
Sustainable solutions were also found in the computer station in the refugee camp. All the power for the computers is sourced from solar panels on the roof and it is open to the host community as well. Solar streetlight installation is currently ongoing and total of 110 solar streetlights from a micro-grid station will give light to streets in the camp soon. But the support does not end just by providing infrastructure. With the help of the supporting organisations, 10 energy ambassadors from both the refugee community and the local community worked together and learned its mechanism from the start of installation, so they can maintain it themselves in its future operation.
The secretary of Beldangi camp shared with us a story when we visited there. When an electrical issue happened in local community, refugees helped to fix it. In return, when a wild elephant attacked the refugee camp and destroyed a few houses, the local community came to support the camp.
Electricity is not only the power source. It has made the local community and refugees “united by light”. I was deeply impressed by the positive impact to connect two communities and, more importantly, their positive, cheerful and generous hearts, which made this happen.