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A beacon of hope

  • Published at 09:03 pm September 23rd, 2016
A beacon of hope
In a remote village of Monpura, Abdul Khaleq, an aged father of one, often found himself sitting in his meagre home, blinded by the darkness surrounding him. With no access to electricity at times, their small abode was pitch dark. But this wasn't the main problem that plagued Khaleq. With his health deteriorating years earlier, the family's financial burden fell on his son's shoulders. Barely earning enough to even afford the family one meal a day, times were difficult. Forced to spend a portion of his money on buying kerosene to light lamps, sometimes even that wasn't enough. Not only did they have to worry about their next meal, they also carefully rationed their use of light to save fuel for when they really needed it. Send A Light Home, an initiative that provides cleaner, safer and better lighting options to the off-grid communities across Bangladesh, gave Khaleq a solar lantern which not only helped Khaleq light up his home, but also made way for them to save money and spend on their basic needs - a right IFC believes every household should be allowed to have. Saving a considerable amount they may have spent on kerosene, Khaleq and his family feel much happier and safer now - being able to finally focus on saving for Khaleq's treatment, and being able to afford their daily meals is one struggle that has found relief. Many other like Khaleq are burdened by their financial worries - forced to find money to pay for kerosene lamps. Many children from some of the most remote areas of the country are unable to continue with their studies, as impoverished parents cannot find means to buy kerosene to light the way for their kids to study. Clearly, the cost of burning kerosene comes at a high price. Send A Light home launched their initiative to bring about change to the whole lifestyle of school going children. Not only did solar lamps enhance children’s learning outcomes but also created an environment free of serious air pollution emitted from kerosene lamps, which harms children’s vision and air quality-related health. The project is the brainchild of Muhammad Taif Ul Islam, team leader of the Lighting Asia Bangladesh project of International Finance Corporation (IFC), formed in 2015. Their aim was to get people in off-grid locations to not spend on kerosene which is environmentally damaging, economically tolling (as it is non-renewable) and also hazardous to health. Not only does it lead to insufficient light and smoke, it can also lead to poor eyesight and respiratory problems. What Send A Light Home does is substitute these kerosene lights with high quality solar lanterns which are usually single lights, operated with solar power offered at price ranges starting from as low as Tk750. Till date, the team has distributed lights to 295 households of Rangamati, Gangachara, Dimla, Monirampur and Monpura that used to use kerosene lamps in the past. By trying FNF networks to help mobilise funds for the lanterns, the team distributed lights at their own cost. Once they shared their journey on Facebook, donations came pouring in, pooling funds for a staggering 4,500 more solar lanterns. The Dhaka Tribune caught up with the team behind Send A Light Home to find out more about their journey. What led to the formation of Send A Light Home? Lightbulb moments often hit when you are least expecting it. While promoting the benefits of these super sturdy, highly durable lanterns that are tested in international labs for quality adherence, we found that many pockets of Bangladesh still hold people incapable of paying for these lights. Their daily income is so low that hoping that they would be able to spend T750 seems implausible. But why do these people need to substitute their existing light source? A household spends about Tk10 per day on a single kerosene lamp. That may not seem like much but if you add up it goes up to Tk3,650 per year approximately. Now the lamps we are talking about gives three times the brightness of a kerosene lamp (kupi) but requires only sunlight to run, which of course, is free. They have a lifetime of four to five years or so, just by substituting one kerosene kupi with a solar lantern, they can save up to Tk18,250 over the lifetime of the lantern. Now many households use more than one Kupi, therefore, the real benefit is even higher. Hence, while the immediate price of even Tk750 is high for them, the resulting monetary, health and environmental benefits from switching are evident. It is also a fact that while residents of metropolitan cities give away thousands in cash or kind to help the needy in forms of charity or zakat, we often don’t realise that it has little impact in improving the recipients’ overall lifestyle. Think about it, a donation of Tk100-200 is most likely to be used for food or clothing. A lungi or saree given lasts no more than a year and brings no real change in a person’s life. Lasting change comes from asset transfer or at least an income generating asset. While the solar lanterns are not income generating, they definitely are expense saving. It stands to reason that we can ask the more resourceful members of our society to spare no more than what they usually reserve for charity, but rather than giving clothes/tips to people and have no impact in the long run, give lights to families battling darkness every day. Just, Send A Light Home! How does the program work? We have kept it simple, anyone can donate money starting from Tk800 and we will buy and distribute the lights through partner NGOs. The donations are traceable as the recipients’ complete details will be provided to the donor. Why is it so important to provide cheaper lighting options for the underprivileged? A good solar home system starts at a price of Tk5,000 and above. They also offer limited mobility as people require lights when going to bazaars or returning from work or, even when going out to the toilet at night. These require frequent servicing and people are often left dissatisfied. Their steep prices are beyond the purchasing capacity of the masses. People, therefore, tend to rely on either kerosene lamps or cheap rechargeable battery lamps which they charge at grid connected bazaars. But these lights have no guarantee and, often, last no more than two to three months. Also, they cannot be used in rainy weathers, are fragile and need to be replaced often, adding up the cost. The disposed lamps also cause environmental havoc due to battery leakages. The lights we are providing through Send a Light Home initiative are all internationally reputed brands, are water proof up to an extent and break proof. All of these lights have two years replacement guarantee and don’t require any maintenance like regular solar home systems - making them super easy to use. In terms of expansion, what plans do you have for the future? As I have said earlier, we have a large number of lanterns which we want to distribute in off grid locations across Bangladesh. We have identified pockets that are not connected to the Grid and hope to light up entire communities at a time. We aspire to reach a wider audience with our work and hopefully continue until people too poor to afford a clean and reliable light gets one. Our efforts are focused on Bangladesh and will continue to be so. What is the procedure to donate/volunteer/lend a helping hand to this organisation? There are a number of things one can do to help us. 1. We have a Facebook page www.facebook.com/sendalighthome. One can like and share our work. 2. Mobilise funds from FNF and donate to this meaningful cause. Just send a message to the page. We usually reply within a day. 3. If you are thinking of giving zakat or charity of any kind, you can think of us. 4. If you are a photographer or videographer who wants to volunteer by documenting our work, we will be heading to the fields soon to distribute lights. You can give us a holler.