Let there be light

Posted on February 28, 2015


Waking up in India is not like waking up anywhere else. There’s the sound of the rickshaw bell – a flustered brrrring – as it hurtles past your window. There’s the smell of tea, steeped in spices and milk, drifting in from the room next door. There’s the golden light that is unique to South Asia – a hue blended by geography, pollution and the foggy breath of a billion people.

And then you step outside.

A few weeks ago, I found myself back in India, travelling with Opportunity International Australia on a visit to some of our projects in the country’s north.

It’s always a privilege to meet the entrepreneurs who have used small loans to create businesses that support their families. On this trip, I was also visiting women who used loans to access solar energy, a sustainable, clean form of electricity that’s adding value to their businesses and improving their quality of life.

Nahid was one of those inspiring women.

Nahid is a weaver. She comes from a family of weavers who have lived for many generations in Varanasi, a city known for its fine silk saris.

She lives with her husband, their daughter Gulista, 12, and son Adil, 10, in Konia slum in the heart of the city’s garment district. Home is a small room – there’s enough space for one bed and a miniature cupboard. In the other corner, there’s a collection of cooking items and a pile of colourful silk material. That leaves enough floor for one or two people to sit cross-legged in the remaining space.

Nahid used to work for someone else. Life was very difficult – she only earned Rp.50 (A$1) a day. Her pay was sporadic and her hours were very long.

With a small loan, she bought her own material, gemstones and glue, and started a business decorating saris. She glues every single jewel by hand, using only a toothpick. It’s hard work, but she now earns Rp.200 (A$4) a day selling the elaborate garments. Most importantly, she works for herself, on her own terms. She also employs 10 other women.

Nahid can’t afford electricity and so for most of her life that has meant days spent in the darkness of her home, doubled over in concentration while decorating saris in a sliver of golden sunlight from the doorway.

Then Nahid took a small loan to purchase a solar energy light and charger. By leaving the device in the daylight for a few hours, she can generate enough power for six hours of light in her home. She can also charge a mobile phone from the device – either her own, or someone else’s for a fee and a bit of extra income.

Now Nahid is able to work faster and for longer hours so that she can earn a greater income. If she uses the light in the evenings, her children can do their homework beside her. For Nahid, as with so many of the inspiring women Opportunity works with, her children are the reason behind everything she does. Her dream is for them both to finish school and lead healthy, prosperous lives.

Solar is a stable, convenient and affordable way to bring light into a family’s home. For many families living in poverty, access to solar also means a cost saving through reduced kerosene usage. Then there are the environmental benefits – solar is clean and there’s no smoke or waste created. With a light in the family home, the family also have improved safety.

You can find out more about Opportunity’s work here.

This is a cross-post with Opportunity International Australia’s blog.