Today was a big day: our first village visit. There was a change in plan, and as opposed to the original destination of Ganeshpura, we decided to view the actual Hariyali pilot village. We left the hotel around 9AM en route to the village of Manpura. Manpura is a village located to the northeast of Ahmedabad, and is the pilot village for the Hariyali project. Upon arrival we were greeted by SEWA associates both from Manpura as well as some from surrounding villages. We were given the traditional bindi and flowers before being invited to one of the dwellings where we were served chai. The people of the village are primarily self-employed farmers, however there is a small constituency of people producing hand-weaved goods.
While the village is “on the grid” access to electricity is limited and unreliable. Further, the added expense of electricity complicates their ability to break the poverty cycle. When portable light is needed the villagers typical made use of kerosene lamps, which also add to household expenses. The solar lanterns, which are LED-based, produce an impressive amount of light and provide 4-6 hours of light on a single charge. They allow the villagers to awake earlier in the morning to tend to livestock, work later in the evening sorting vegetables and have also been employed in the fields at night to keep pests from destroying crops. There are additional social benefits as well, such as the use of the light to comfort the children, charge cell phones or simply to provide light in the evening to encourage socialization. The new technology does introduce challenges. The primary issue is repair. Inevitably these devices will breakdown and need service. The Hariyali project seeks to train one individual per village to preform maintenance on the lanterns to assure that they remain in operating order. The gentleman in Manpura that has gone through training proudly displayed his new skills to us by disassembling and reassembling one of the lanterns.
Although the benefits of the lantern are readily visible, the impact of the stoves is even greater. We toured two dwellings where the women were using the new stoves, and one where a woman was using the traditional three-stone stove. The differences were notable. The women using the new stoves were spending significantly less time gathering firewood and cooking (between 1-3 hours per day) that they are then able to devote to their livelihoods and ensuring their children are able to attend school, as opposed to assisting their mothers in the fields. The stoves use less fuel and produce less smoke. The dwellings with the new stoves were noticeably cleaner and less smoky. The social benefits of a clean living space were evident as one woman recounted how her mother in law used to taunt her for the amount of soot that would accumulate on the wall of her house. She now spends less time cleaning as a result. The stoves are designed to confine heat within the cylinder, which is the key to reduced energy consumption, however it also creates uneven heat on the cooking surface. This has necessitated an adjustment in how the traditional bread dish of the region, rotla, is cooked as often times the center of the bread becomes overcooked and the edges undercooked. The women have adjusted their methods to compensate, but convincing people to change something as ingrained in their culture as their cooking methods could prove challenging.
We toured the village and the fields, and witnessed a group of monkeys being chased from the crops. We were entertained, however these creatures are seen largely as pests that threaten the villagers’ livelihoods. We returned to the first dwelling where we served a lunch of rotla and spicy vegetable dishes, and more chai. We then sat in on a SEWA meeting and were given a brief history of SEWA’s involvement in this specific village. We had the opportunity to ask more questions, and it became apparent that if anything these people want the Hariyali project to move forward with greater speed. Embarking on our journey back to Ahmedabad we were left with a greater sense of the purpose of Hariyali, and a renewed drive to produce a strategy for scaling a program that produces so much societal good for relatively little. Back to the office…