The story of Kudub, a village in Orissa’s Koraput district, was no different from nearly a third of India’s rural landscape. Every day the setting sun would steal away the last rays of hope for the villagers to prepare for a better future. Everything would come to a standstill as darkness engulfed the village. The wobbly flames from a few kerosene lamps that dared to put up a fight against the massive cloak of gloom would darken the surroundings further with soot-filled air blackening the walls and the lungs of the villagers.
But the aspirational spirit in Damayanti Pangi, 29, refused to die down in spite of the lack of electricity in her village. Today, a quiet revolution has taken place in Kudub and at the forefront of it all is Damayanti, who often found it difficult to arrange for two square meals for her three children in spite of working very hard alongside her husband from sun rise to sun set.
The better life she aspired for finally knocked at the doors of Kudub when The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in partnership with Rashtriya Seva Samithi (RASS) decided to bring its flagship programme, Lighting a Billion Lives, to the village through the use of solar powered lanterns.
The LaBL project was launched in 2008 by TERI. The aim was to provide the base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) communities with clean and affordable lighting solutions. The programme was an instant success because it sought to give power to the common man in its real sense — directly involving people from different sections of society to help light up their homes and generating job opportunities as well. Till date, the programme has touched the lives of over 2.5 million people across India and globally.
Kudub was a beneficiary of this massive effort. Damayanti’s leadership and organisational skills helped her win the confidence of TERI and RASS representatives to promote her as the first village-level entrepreneur. A solar charging station was installed in her house and TERI experts trained her to handle the basic maintenance and repair works of the SCS.
Today, every morning when the residents of Kudub appear before her to handover the solar lamps, Damayanti greets them with a smile. She monitors the charging of the lamps during the day at the facility installed in her house and keeps them ready so that her fellow villagers, now clients, could pick them up on their way back home in the evening. “The venture not only helped me and others earn more money, it also helped the children in the village to study in the evening,” says a jubilant Damayanti. The rental amount that helps her earn Rs 1,500 per month from charging solar lanterns also works out to the advantage of others as it is much cheaper than the cost of a kerosene lamp.
Her leadership skills is well reflected in the fact that Damayanti has decided to further brighten up the lives of other women of her village by helping them set up their own businesses, such as manufacturing leaf plates and cups and cultivating vegetables in the evening, among others. The overall productivity of the Kudub has also gone up as people continue working till late in the evening. “The solar lanterns have brought in many positive changes in our lives. I earn an additional Rs 600 by selling the leaf plates. The lanterns have helped us gain confidence and also brought in significant improvement in our health, livelihood, safety and education for all members of Kudub village,” adds Damayanti, one of the thousands village-level entrepreneurs trained by TERI.
With the help of the aspirational Indian like Damayanti, this is just the beginning to lighting a billion lives.