The students of the Kamela public school, in Uttar Pradesh, India.
THE LIGHTING LIBRARY
Text by Thomas Deflandre
Imagine a lantern which helps children going to school, a lantern which increases the school attendance rate! Impossible?
After a 2 days trip by car and train from Udaipur we are now in Uttar Pradesh region, and more precisely in a very small village named Kamela. We are going to visit a public school where an amazing program has started for the children.
One issue that several NGOs are trying to solve is the access to education for every child. Dharma Life and Signify found out that school attendance in rural areas is really low and those villages face huge electricity issues.
They teamed up with the idea to give solar lanterns to the village’s students during 1 month allowing them to bring light at home. However, the solar panel is on the roof of the school and therefore children have to come back to school to plug lanterns. This is really a smart concept to encourage parents to let their children going to school in exchange for light at home!
Shivang, our contact at Dharma Life, gave us some explanations during our journey to the village: 40 solar lamps have been provided to the school in December 2018 and one Dharma Life Entrepreneur, Antima, is physically on site to manage this project.
Interview of the school director
Kids were not informed about our visit so when we arrived they all left their classes to welcome us, they were really happy to see us and it was a shared feelings.
We had a first interview with Antim, the director of the school. She is teacher for 20 years here and has 298 students.
The main issue she is facing is the attendance rate, today it’s 70% but during the harvesting season it drops to 30%. For most parents their children are actually workforce helping in fields whereas going to school is pointless.
“Finally a NGO coming to this village”
Antim even shared with us a video where you see teachers going to the field where parents and children are working, it turned almost to fight because parents are not willing to let their kids going to school. I can understand the complexity of their daily life and who am I to blame them, but education is the only way to give a chance to those kids, to allow them to have choice in their future. I wish I could have a magic stick to make that point obvious to everyone.
When Dharma Life came to visit Antim, she thought : “finally a NGO coming to this village”. Indeed in those last miles schools even if the government tries to support, it’s often inappropriate, they for instance received computers but don’t have electricity to power them. Therefore NGOs such as Dharma Life make the difference and come with suitable actions.
When the lighting library has been proposed to Antim she was really inspired and after 4 months she already sees the benefits: 15% more attendance, including students who never came before.
Antim is convinced the lighting library has a good leverage and she curious to see results after more additional months.
What is it to be Dharma Life Entrepreneur? Antima told us everything
Antima is the Dharma Life Entrepreneur running the lighting library. She’s from this village, has a bachelor and wants to become teacher in primary school.
Thanks to Dharma Life she really stepped out of her routine and got confidence in herself, she has led activities she never thought about before such as the lighting library or a cooking festival. Her family knows how the village is isolated and therefore they highly support Antima for being a Dharma Life member and helping the village. It also helped her to be recognized and trusted in the village.
She was initially doubtful about the lighting library, not about the benefits because as she said “this is obvious” but more about her role and the set up. Now, everything is clear: every day she’s at school to give and register the 40 students who will have the lantern during 1 month. Then every month a new batch of students will experience the lantern.
Leading the lighting library is not the only task, she’s also a sale representative and her ambition is to sell solar lanterns to get sustainable revenue. This is again about empowerment of woman to help Antima to create an impact with local economy.
As a future teacher helping children is important for her and thanks to this project she can directly act in their wellbeing. She recalls going to the neighbors looking for light in order to study for her exams and she would have loved to have such lanterns during the exams season.
The lanterns library
A solar panel has been installed on the rooftop of the school to charge the lanterns.
Back to school !
After those interviews we couldn’t wait more to visit the classes. It has been hours in the school without any children interactions so thanks to Shivang for the translation we could visit the classes and discuss in plenary sessions with students.
It was 2 classes of roughly 40 students, they all stood up when we entered the class to say hello – it reminded my college classes when someone came to visit us except this time I was the person visiting – and then they all seated on the floor with notebooks in their hands.
They all have already received the solar lanterns for one month and they were really happy, one by one they stood up to share their experiences:
You know what we say: the truth comes from children’s mouth. All those stories made us again realised how light can change life for those children and their families.
Several children told us their parents changed their minds about school and 5 of them have even bought a lantern.
Finally we ask them who likes going to school? Guess what happened? They all raised their hands in less than a second!
The lighting library in action
4pm, time for the delivery of the solar lamps to the 40 children. We assisted to the distribution done by Antima. Kids well aligned waiting to be called to sign the register and to grab one lantern. In less than 20min it was done and they all went home with the exception of couple of ones who stayed to play the national game in India : cricket!
Night tour in the village
The sunset is coming and therefore we decided to stay longer in the village to visit families who have received the lanterns.
Most of the families who live in the village are farmers, producing mustard in the fiels around. Here a family who bought a solar torch after trying the lantern from the school.
People started to notice that foreigners are in the streets and one guy asked to Antima what we are doing. She explained the project and share the product, within a minute 10 persons were surrounding us, some of them arguing the benefits of the products, some other saying their kids had it from school, … then Shivang stepped in and helped Antima in her sales pitch, it was really a nice moment for us, we couldn’t understand a word of the discussion but the visual was self explaining.
At the end the initial guy who questioned Antima convinced one of his friend to buy the lamp!
Shivang told us later that we might have influenced a bit because having foreigners visiting the village means the product must be very good quality.
Around 6pm, the village was in the dark, no light at all except in 2 or 3 corners where solar street lights have been installed. So we walked in the dark looking for light points.
On our way we met a group of people who were discussing together using kerosene lamps, I can tell you that we stayed there for about 10min and I started to get nauseous with the smoke coming out of those lanterns. I remembered that kid who told us it’s “dirty”, indeed I couldn’t stay one night with such a lamp next to me and I don’t want to know the healthy impacts.
We then met 2 families where the kids were using the solar lamps for studying. All the kids from the house and even from the neighborhood were seated around the source of light reading out loud their books.
In some other houses we found the lamp used for cooking. Definitely light brings life in those houses and it was so fruitful to experience it with several families.
This mark really the end of the day, we still have 1h to get back to our guesthouse. This project shows again how small actions can bring hope to so many people. Here we have those children who can go to school, who can bring light at home and being encouraged by their parents, we have those families who understand how education of their children might pull up the whole family, we have those families who discover a reliable way to have light at home, we have Antima who is getting one step closer to her dream to become teacher but also empowered by the community and able to start a sustainable business.