Let There Be Light: ACT and Barefoot College partner to bring solar energy to indigenous villages in Suriname

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Through a new partnership with the Barefoot College, ACT will bring solar energy to remote villages in the Suriname rainforest.  

From left to right: Katia Delvoye, Rodrigo Paris, and Niradj Hanoeman prior to leaving for Tepu. Click to enlarge

In July, Rodrigo Paris of Barefoot College and Director of ACT Suriname Minu Parahoe departed for the indigenous village of Tepu in south Suriname, accompanied by Katia Delvoye and Niradj Hanoeman from the ACT Suriname office.

ACT Suriname is partnering with the Barefoot College in the Solar Engineering Training Program. Through this program, two indigenous Trio women from Tepu will complete a six-month training in India from October 2015 – March 2016. Solar energy in the villages will provide communities with a clean and more reliable source of energy. Currently, they rely on a generator that is powered by a limited amount of government-provided oil.

The visit marked Rodrigo’s first visit to Suriname.

“I am very happy that we as an organization can work with Surinamese communities,” he said. “Since 2012, we have trained 50 women from Latin America in India. These women have had an enormous impact on their villages and families.”

Established in India in 1973, Barefoot College has trained 1,100 women from 73 countries to install, maintain and repair solar energy systems. Roughly 500,000 people in rural communities use solar energy because of the Barefoot College.

Solar engineers in Peru. Click to enlarge

While in Tepu, Rodrigo explained the project and the community selected the two women who will be trained in India. Barefoot College requires that each participant be a grandmother or mother older than 35.

“We choose women because they have a great responsibility in the family,” Rodrigo said. “This responsibility ensures they will transfer their knowledge about solar energy to others. In other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, [our model] was successful. Every village where the women live has solar energy.”

Rodrigo and his team also work with the community to create a solar committee (SC), which ensures that every household pays a monthly fee for the energy. In most villages, the contribution is between $3 and $5 per month.  The SC manages the funds and ensures that the solar engineers are paid. The rest of the money can be used to buy spare parts or for repair. This way, it is a sustainable project.

After the women return home from their training in India, they will install solar energy systems in Tepu, Minu explained.

Tepu, a Trio village in the south of Suriname. Click to enlarge

“ACT Suriname is working to raise $50,000 to provide 100 households in Tepu with a solar energy system,” she said. “It is a basic system on which three lamps can be connected and mobile phones can be charged. If there are additional needs, the system can be expanded so that other equipment can be connected.”

ACT Suriname hopes the pilot project is successful so that more women from indigenous and Maroon communities can take part in the solar engineering training. Success might also open the door for ACT Suriname to partner with the Surinamese government on renewable energy initiatives. In this way, many more villages across the country can take advantage of this critical resource.

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