WATCH: Empowering communities with liters of light
MANILA, Philippines – As a mother of 3, Jecibel Ocampo's only wish is for her town to have a decent source of electricity.
Ocampo, 30, lives at the foot of the Taal Volcano, in the village of Calawit in Batangas province. Their community of more than 800 people rely mostly on cheap kerosene and battery-powered lamps to light up their homes.
When Ocampo was young, she found it hard to study for the next day's class because there was no electricty in her home. Most of the times, she would wake up early and wait for daybreak so that she could read her books in daylight.
"Mahirap po pag nag-aaral po kami (It's difficult to study)," she recounted.
"Pag inabot po kami ng gabi, sa umaga na po uli kasi wala nang ilaw. (We study again in the morning because there is no light)," she added.
Her kids are still young but she didn't want them to experience the same.
Off the grid
Ocampo's situation is not an isolated case.
In a study conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) in 2013, some 16 million Filipinos remain to have access to electricity.
Rural electrification has always been a problem in the country especially in towns located in islands and mountains.
Living in the Taal Volcano island, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology resident volcanologist Paolo Reniva hinted that their location is possibly the reason why the community is off the grid.
"Siguro, cost effectiveness lang talaga (dahil) magtatawid ka ng kable. (Maybe it's the cost effectiveness [of the project] because you have to cross [the lake to install] cables,) he said.
"'Yung ibang bahay may mga solar panels so may provision sila for lighting ... but full electrification, wala. (Other homes have solar panels so they have provision for lighting, but they don't have full electrification service,") he added.
Relying mostly on fish farming and agriculture, the residents do not make much from their livelihood – let alone buy a solar panel which will cost them thousands of pesos.
The local government of Calawit turned over an electric generator for the village sometime in 2010.
They usually put it to use during festivities or emergencies. But it's been 4 years since they last used it because the community cannot afford buying gasoline to make it work.
"Nalipat na sa Balete kaya wala na masyadong magbayad para pang-gasolina. Kaya po nawala na tuloy yung ilaw ng generator," Jecibel said. (Others moved to Balete so there were not enough contributions for gasoline. That's why we're not able to use the generator.)
If not too expensive, applying for access to electricity in areas like Calawit are too tedious and close to impossible. (READ: Rappler Animate: Why electricity rates in Philippines are high)
For international movement Liter of Light, powering homes with limited or no electrification with affordable and sustainable solar lights is their advocacy.
According to Illac Diaz, Liter of Light executive director, lamps powered by green energy is "usually imported, patented, and expensive.".
"When it breaks in about two years, they have to go into debt again to be able to purchase it," Illac said.
Liter of Light produces cheap solar-powered lanterns made up of recycled plastic bottles or kerosene lamps, locally produced microcircuits, and batteries charged by mini solar panels. These are assembled by a network of women cooperatives around the country.
Diaz said that the cheapest lamp they make costs around P200 to P300 which can last for about 10 hours lighted. It has a life span of 5 years before parts need to be replaced.
They also train at least one technician and one entrepreneur from the communities that received their lanterns to make sure that they don't have to buy a new one when it breaks.
"They need something that they themselves can repair. When one part is broken, you don't have to throw away the whole unit," he said.
Sustainable emergency lights
With their cheap units, Liter of Light hopes to make solar-powered lanterns easily accessible, especially in disater-stricken areas.
Diaz said that they started producing lanterns and street lights in 2014 for communities ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan).
"In case of disasters, it's not about waiting for imported patented parts from abroad which takes 5 months to 10 months to arrive for large orders. It's something that we can build immediately here in the country," he said.
"We really wanted to make the largest emergency lighting system in the country," he added.
During the Agos Summit on Disaster Preparedness, Diaz said that there is a need to teach people to be able to learn to make their own lights. (READ: Teach people to rebuild homes after disasters, advocate says)
To prove his point, Diaz taught Senator Richard Gordon and Yes Pinoy Foundation executive director Dingdong Dantes to make lanterns for the Liter of Light during the summit.
"Even in disaster, if there's a massive earthquake, it's not that you'll be able to go to your 7-Eleven and buy batteries. You really have to start teaching people to be able to make their own light," he said.
On July 27 to 29, Liter of Light donated hundreds of solar-powered lamps to communities living at the foot of Taal Volcano, a permanent danger zone according to volcanologists.
Ocampo was among the recipients of those lamps.
"Masaya po kasi ngayon lang ako nakatanggap ng ganito. May magagamit na [mga anak ko] pang-aral sa gabi," she said. (I'm happy because this is the first time I've received a [solar panel]. It can be used [by my children] to study at night.)
All around the world, Liter of Light has helped power over 790,000 homes.
But the work is far from over.
According to World Energy Organization, some 1.2 billion people or 16% of the global population did not have access to electricity in 2014.
"We want to make it part of the grassroots and turn the technology over thousands of people rather than holding it in one company," Diaz said.
"The green jobs shouldn't be about reselling. It could be about building, creating, and innovating." – Rappler.com
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