By Kara Sheiko
My trip to India was surreal. One day I was in finance class, and the next day on was on a flight headed to the other side of the world. Once in Mumbai we arrived at our hotel for some much needed sleep, and had a few hours the following to explore Mumbai’s markets, India Gate, and waterfront. Then, we were on a plane again to Ahmedabad, SEWA’s home city.
Once settled in Ahmedabad, we headed to SEWA’s office to introduce ourselves to the leadership team, and hear firsthand about the projects we would be working on during our time in India and back in the United States. Neeta explained to us that Jyoti is a project that is funded by Coca-Cola India Foundation. The Foundation provides funding for providing solar electricity to schools, solar lanterns for homes, and hand pumps in remote villages that have limited access to electricity and clean water. We learned that Jyoti was completing its 2nd of 3 phases. The villages impacted by Phase 1 & 2 were in area of Rajasthan called Dungarpur. Our project would involve visiting villages that were at varying stages of Jyoti. We would interview women and visit villages to assess Jyoti and provide external insights on the impact of Jyoti. Our insights would be presented in a formal report that would be used internally by SEWA for education purposes, shared with the Coca-Cola India Foundation, and used to determine future phases of the project. We were also tasked to create brochures that can be used in villages, internally, and externally with fundraisers. And, finally, we would create a powerpoint presentation that could be used by SEWA was giving overviews of Jyoti and showcase its successes.
We visited 3 village in Dungapur. The villages had been involved with SEWA and Jyoti between 3 months and 3 years. There were striking differences in these villages and their willingness to have open conversations about Jyoti, and their understanding of the improvements to their lives because of these incremental changes. An important factor with SEWA and Jyoti, is that those families that benefit must pay a small contribution in order to receive the solar lanterns, handpump, and solar panels.
• For the villages that had additional hand pumps installed the women praised spending less time walking to and from the pumps, reduced head and backache from carrying water, and overall better health due to having steady access to clean water nearby. Instead of spending a good portion of their day retrieving water, many women had shifted to getting water on-demand, as needed. This gave them additional time to focus on additional are of their life: work, childcare, agriculture, and household duties.
• The village we visited that had a school with solar panels talked about the addition of electricity, lighting, and ceiling fans at the school. While it was difficult to attribute improved grades and attendance to fans or lighting, teachers said the students were more comfortable during the hot season and were able to focus more. The lighting was used sparingly – in classrooms that didn’t get as much daylight as others and during certain seasons where natural light was not as bright. They principal and teacher did discuss that they used the lighting for several after school events, including political elections and a cultural event. We learned that government had promised a computer in every secondary school. The school had a room wired with electricity for a computer lab, but the only computer they had no longer had a working monitor. Overall, we were impressed by the enthusiasm from teachers, parents, students, and village leadership. There was a high emphasis on education, and everyone desired to create better lives for their families and opportunities for their children.
• In the villages that were using solar lanterns, the women discussed how having light extended the hours that they were able to work and were no longer limited to natural light. Women were able to wake up earlier and prepare food, feed the animals, perform household duties and fetch water before the sun had risen. At night, the whole family stayed up later when before they would typically go to bed early or rely on expensive and toxic kerosene lanterns for lighting. Children were able to do homework after dark, and women were able to cook and server dinner, or perform additional household duties if they so choose. By freeing up this additional time, the women could use their time to work and earn money through a variety of odd jobs (agriculture, national job guarantee, handicrafts). Another added benefit is that mobile phones were able to be charged from the lantern, when previously the women would have to travel to the nearest town, pay to charge the phone, often wait their turn to charge, and then wait while the phone charged. This burden has been alleviated 100% for those that have purchased solar lanterns. So, in summary, the lanterns saved the women time by extending the available work hours, saved money through reduction in costs associated with kerosene and mobile charging, and improved health due to reduced exposure to kerosene and being active at night without proper lighting.
Once back in Ahmedabad, we presented our initial insights and our project plan to SEWA leadership. We flushed out more detail in each of the deliverables, our determined our communication plan over the next 10 weeks. We look forward to being able to provide SEWA with effective marketing collateral and insightful impact assessment that will help them achieve their long term goals with Jyoti and the villages in Rajasthan.