Posted by: Mitch Silver | March 20, 2012

Taji village lighting installation completed

I just returned last from Taji village in Lamjung district. ImageThis village is about 45 minutes walk from Namarkhu and even closer to Samgaredhi where I had previously distributed LED lanterns powered by solar charging stations, in conjunction with the village mother’s group. Taji has 93 households and each house got a Black Diamond donated Apollo lantern powered by any of 3 solar charging stations located in different parts of the village. Taji has no access to the electric grid although some houses have installed solar lighting. The new Apollo lanterns will give each household a portable and higher quality light.


As in previous installations, the lanterns and solar gear are donated to the village Mother’s Group, who sell the lanterns to each household for 1000 rupees and operate the solar charging stations . The 1000 rupee price paid in installments allows the villagers to make payments from the cash saved from kerosene not used in the kerosene lanterns now replaced with the vastly better Black Diamond LED lanterns. In less than a year, with no additional cash outflow, each household will own a state of the art portable LED light that provides significantly better light than the dim, polluting and expensive kerosene wick lamps they had been using. After the lantern is paid for, there will be on-going cash savings. Significantly, the Mother’s Group is empowered and strengthened with access to money and respect from the community for a facilitating a beneficial project.Image

Getting to this area is a challenge. Public transport requires a 5 hour minibus ride to the village of Paundi, where you hopefully can find a bus that will take you 4-5 hours on a very precipitous, rough and winding dirt road deeper into the Himalayas. From there a 3 hours walk will get you to the last stretch which is a very steep descent, invariably in the dark, to the village. I was accompanied on this trip by Ganga Gurung, who has helped facilitate and translate the lighting transfer in other villages and Nira Gurung whose parents live in the village and whose father is a retired  Gurkha officer who commands significant respect in the village. Initially we had a series of meetings to explain how the system would work, responsibility of the Mother’s Group, the households, and those villagers that operate the charging stations. Topics such as finance, maintenance, warranties, responsibilities and technical details all must be carefully explained. After that, the solar charging stations are located with input from the Mother’s Group and lastly the lanterns are distributed. Invariably there is a late night singing and dancing session as a token of the village’s appreciation. Combine with the local kodo ko rakshi (distilled millet drink) a great time was had by all. Image

There are more photos online at If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at: silver at maui2000 dot com

Posted by: Mitch Silver | October 14, 2011

Return to Namarkhu – Oct 10, 2011

Just back from a trip to Namarkhu in Lamjung district. Getting to and from Namarkhu is a major effort. First you take a car or bus for 5-6 hours on paved road. Then if you’re lucky, you squeeze onto a bus or jeep for a minimum of 3 hours of bouncing and jostling on a severely rutted dirt road. A few days back the bus was so crowded, I opted to sit on the roof.  You need to pay serious attention to low hanging wires, branches and bamboo, which aside from causing potential serious injury can suddenly leave you furiously brushing off biting ants.  Some scary moments while holding on for dear life, when the bus was listing more than 20 degrees with a precipitous drop on one side. You imagine the bus tumbling down the mountain while simultaneously thinking which direction you are going jump off the roof.  But before disaster struck, the bus augured into thick mud coming to a sudden stop listing to one side.

Stuck in the mud for 3 hours

Three hours of digging and pushing later we were on our way again. The final leg was 3 hours of trekking to the village which inevitably ends with a steep 30 minute steep descent in the dark. The joys of travel: “It’s not the destination but the journey”.

Once in the village, hospitality is great and if you are a fan of dal bhat (rice and lentils) and kodo ko rakshi (a locally distilled millet drink) you are in luck. There is a fair amount of competition as to who gets to invite us for meals and drinks.

We had a village meeting to consider building a new drinking water system. Lots of interest as the need is obvious. Step one is to pay and engineer to come to the village and design and create a cost estimate. Hopefully this will happen in the next week or two. Lots of design options with the major consideration being whether to have several tap stands in the village or spend some extra money and have pipes to each and every household with an inexpensive water meter. The next major hurdle will be to figure out how to come up with the funds to buy the pipes and other equipment. A very rough guess is that it will cost US$7000-$8000. There is some money from the sale of the lighting equipment to the villagers, but this is perhaps only 20% of the total cost. Labor such as digging of ditches to bury pipes and carrying cement and sand, and rocks will be voluntary.

View of Namarkhu ridge

The next day we visited some neighboring off the grid villages who had expressed interest in solar lighting like Namarkhu and Samgaredi villages now have. The 45 minute walk from Namakhu followed an irrigation ditch, and before I knew it my shoes and ankles were covered in leeches. Too late, as I had 10 bites and another dozen suckers were looking for a blood donation. Wouldn’t be so bad if they healed, but in my case they anticoagulant the leeches leave makes for festering wound. Uggh.

Preliminary investigation left me wondering on the cost effectiveness of these particular villages as the villages clusters are groups of 10 to 14 houses separated by a 15-20 minute walk. Each cluster would need their own charging station. I think this decision will require another visit.

The trip back to Kathmandu was also pretty brutal. Woke up at 4:30 am with a 5 am departure straight up hill. almost 3 hours later we were at the bus to take us another 3 hours to the paved road. Then we waited 3 hours to catch a micro bus with seats to take us for the 5 hour ride back to Kathmandu. At 8:30 pm I finally arrived at my hotel.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | December 5, 2010

Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings

I had an interesting conversation with a Swiss engineer that I knew from many years ago that has vast experience in alternative energy in rural Nepal. One thing he said really stuck in my mind: The need for follow-up is key. Too many aid projects happen and without follow-up and the donor really doesn’t ever find out about issues and problems like maintenance, social discord, secondary impacts and implications, and the ultimate success or failure of the project.

Handing out lanterns

Olse Danda - new Black Diamond lanterns being distributed

In Samghaderi in our discussions with the village I was insistent that households that were to receive a lantern should pay 1000 rupees (US$15) to the Mothers’ Group. There was some reluctance to paying that amount even though I had explained that over time money would be saved from not using kerosene and additionally the money would stay in the village for the benefit of the village. After some discussion I explained that in Namarkhu we had arranged a 200 rupees (US$3) per month payment for 5 months. They still thought this was too much to pay. When I suggested a payment of 100 rupees (US$1.50) per month for 10 months they readily agreed that this was reasonable. I don’t really think that they were considering the entire payment and number of months of payment – instead I think they could only seriously visualize paying 100 rupees versus 200 rupees versus one total payment of 1000 rupees. The concept that the total amounts were the same might have escaped them.

There were many instances of the villagers expressing their appreciation for lantern’s portability. Some said that even if electricity via the grid came to their village, they would still want their Black Diamond Apollo lanterns as the flexibility to use them outside, at festivals, on the trails, getting fodder etc. was fantastic.

The Namarkhu villagers really appreciated the fact that all the money they paid for lanterns stayed in the village as contrasted with kerosene payments which ultimately left the country.

I leveraged the project going forward by helping with the design of a new village water system. We surveyed the flow, elevation and distance of a pristine water source that is sufficient for all of Namarkhu water needs. Some and perhaps most of the money raised with the sale of lanterns to the Mother’s Group will go towards this end. I told the villagers there was interest to help with other development projects like the potential relocation and rebuilding of the elementary school but it was predicated on the success of the water system. “One project at a time”, I said. I wanted to motivate them to get the job done and done right. As I was leaving Namarkhu, one of the village leaders was off to the district center to get a water engineer to come to the village and h design and price the new water system. I await the results …

Namarkhu kids picking up litter

Namarkhu kids picking up litter

I mentioned to Prem that on our previous visits we had seen too much litter in and around the village on the trails. We organized a village cleanup with the school kids with Prem taking the lead. He got the primary school kids to get baskets and pick up litter throughout the village. They did a good cleanup job and the fact that they were working hard picking up the trash might make them think a second time before littering. I think it will ultimately take an ongoing organized effort, but this was a good start.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | December 5, 2010

Going Forward

Several very interesting possibilities exist for expanding the lighting project well beyond its current scope. One idea is to work with Suryodaya Urja Ltd. and use radio to get village women’s groups or other social groups to come forward and request help with lighting. We would potentially provide lighting at the manufacturer’s cost or some other reasonably subsidized price. The solar components and installation labor would either be sold at retail or if fund-raising permitted: a subsidized price. I would imagine provide detailed information on existing installations and the social organization as well as the details of collecting funds, maintenance issues etc. These are preliminary thoughts and will require a great deal more thought.

Another possibility exists to work with existing NGOs that are already doing solar lighting projects and see if they would be interested in our model of central village charging, portable quality lanterns and working with the village Mothers’ Group or other relevant existing social structure.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | December 5, 2010

October/November 2010 Update

Installing 2 new panels in the lower part of Namarkhu

Installing 2 new solar panels in the lower part of Namarkhu

Having returned home after almost three months on the road this blog update is long overdue. My apologies for the delay. The first part of this trip included time in “state of the art” Singapore on the way to just “coming out of the stone age” Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG was a spur of the moment adventure visiting a couple of “sing sings” which are tribal gatherings – one in Goroka and the other in Simbai, and then a week in a dugout canoe exploring some of the more remote reaches of the Sepik river. Some photos are online at My return to Nepal (via Singapore and Bangkok) involved three very different destinations: a visit to World Wildlife Fund’s work in Langtang district, a quick trip back to the prototype lighting village in Namarkhu in Lamjung during the Dasain holiday and lastly a trip to Bardia National Park in southwest Nepal Terai region – again with WWF in an effort to see if my expertise would be of use to their ongoing work there. I was accompanied on all these destinations with my friend Dr. Leo Liu an expert in infectious diseases.

In the last part of October we flew on Druk Airlines to Paro Bhutan where we spent three weeks with WWF Bhutan. We traveled the length and breadth of the country seeing several of the national parks and wildlife refuges, while getting an in-depth and close-up view of WWF’s work in the region.  In the process I learned a lot about Bhutan’s society, culture, environment, and government policies and projects. Bhutan is an amazing contrast to Nepal! In mid-November I returned to Nepal, and went right to work acquiring the solar gear in order to go back to Lamjung and install more lighting systems.

On my return to Kathmandu, I ordered the solar panels, batteries, charge controllers and related equipment from Suryodaya Urja a Kathmandu solar company. The primary sponsor for the purchase of this equipment came from the Irving Foundation. On behalf of the villagers from Lamjung who now have light in the evening without suffering the evils of burning kerosene, many thanks for your help!) They arranged to deliver all the solar photovoltaic gear to my hotel that night. We left the next day for Lamjung district with Prem Gurung (a high altitude climbing and trekking guide born in Namarkhu) and Ganga Gurung who would act as translator when needed and also help collect survey information related to lantern and or kerosene use. It’s not an easy trip. I chartered a van which arrived at 5:30am and we loaded the gear and started out a bit after 6am. After about 6 hours on the poorly maintained and heavily trafficked road to Pokhara, we turned north at Dumre and headed for Poundi. The van dropped us at the foot bridge that crosses the Marsyangdi River and Prem and I split up to look for porters to carry the gear across the bridge and up the hill where we had previously met the jeep or bus for the next and significantly more difficult part of the journey on a very rough dirt track. We shortly learned of a new bridge completed just three days earlier and Prem found a bus to come down to us and load all our gear on top and we climbed on getting seated (wedged in like sardines) on the last row in back. About 4 hours of bouncing later we were in Gouda where Prem had arranged a group of 7 Namarkhu guys to meet us and carry our gear to the village.  After tea and search for rope and namlos (head straps for carrying loads commonly used in Nepal) we started off. Ganga and I could go faster with our minimal loads and off we went into the fog and drizzle. It was pitch black when we got to the steep turn off that would take us 40 minutes down the ridge to Namarkhu and we slowly descended the slippery trail in the dark – but thankfully I had a headlamp and Ganga had her own flashlight. My walking stick was really an asset – given the steep and slippery steps that seemed to never end. We arrived wet and tired, but still a couple of hours ahead of the Prem and the porters who really struggled in the dark– their heaviest load was a large battery weighing about 40kgs!

In Olse Danda village handing out lanterns

In Olse Danda village handing out lanterns

We spent the next couple of days going over issues from the original installation related to charging, usage, payment schedules and demand for more lights. We had several meetings both in small groups as well as public village meetings that were really useful. Demand was strong for more lights in new households as well as second lights in households that had previously received lanterns. There was a bit of “testimonial” moment when one woman got up and said she wanted to express her deep appreciation for the help provided. She explained that the Mothers’ Group had lent her money when she was very sick in order to travel to a hospital and get

Lanterns getting charged

Black Diamond Apollo lanterns getting charged for the first time

medical help which she could not have afforded otherwise. She said the money had come from the lighting project and might have saved her life! Wow! And, she had already paid back the loan. Loans in village Nepal can have extortionary lending rates – I’ve heard instances of rates from as high as 1% per day to as low as 20% – but in this case the rate was close to interest free. Another woman said she had borrowed money in order to build a new house in the village and the house was now complete and the loan would be paid back in full shortly. Surprising, yet gratifying, to know that the women of Namarkhu were taking care of their own with the money generated by the lighting project. We also had visits from villagers Olse Danda and we walked to Samghaderi to talk to the community there about the details of installing a lighting project. The necessity to understand the needs of the community, establish good communication and insure that there is follow-up is really critical to the success of any development project.

Women in Olse Danda in the new charging station admiring their new BD Apollo lanterns

Having just wired the charging station some of the local women came by to admire the new lanterns.

The next three days were busy as I wired lower Namarkhu, Olse Danda and Samghaderi for new solar charging stations and we handed out Black Diamond Apollo lanterns – 30 for lower Namarkhu most of them as second lanterns, 26 for Olse Danda and 24 in Samghaderi. There were some issues with the inverters that we overcame and additional problems with the pre-drilled bolt holes on the solar panel frames not matching up with the panel mounting bracket. I called the Suryodaya Urja who had sold us the solar equipment and they agreed to send out a technician with the needed parts the next day. Service like this in Nepal is extraordinary. We temporarily used rope to tie the solar photo voltaic panels to the roofs and two days later the technician arrived and permanently mounted the panels as intended.

There was a bit of a competition in all of the villages to invite us to lunch, dinner and always ply us with kodo ko rakshi – distilled spirits made from millet in most homes. Hard to say no without offending potential hosts, so we did our best to comply.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | March 24, 2010

Village Lighting Installation

After 10 days I am very pleased to be able to say we’ve had success beyond our expectations. Social organization within the village was very smooth and productive although village meetings in Nepal require significant patience.

There were three days of initial meetings

Transport to and from the village required four arduous trips.  Each trip took an entire day with a long bus ride, hours on a worn out overcrowded jeep with virtually no suspension and 3 to 4 hours of hiking. Perhaps ironically I had picked the area for its ease of access, but much of village Nepal is much more difficult to get to.  Initial conceptual and organizational meetings involved the entire village, and other meetings were held with the village leaders and or the mothers group over three days. These meeting were a group effort with Prem, Ganga, Nobuko and myself all playing important roles. Prem and I then travelled to Damauli where I had shipped the solar panels, batteries and accessories. The next day we reserved a jeep with the solar equipment and the lanterns and returned to Namarkhu village.

Mounting and wiring the photovoltaic system was done in a few hours

The "charge house" - daily drops offs and pickup of the lanterns happen here

Installation of the panels was done in a day. This involved buying some 10 ft. hardwood beams and sawing them longitudinally creating two supports – one for each of the two solar photovoltaic panels, attaching the solar panel support mounts, and then securely attaching these beams to the existing house structure. We then mounted the panels and wired all the components. The solar system can easily charge 12 lanterns a day and perhaps significantly more. The systems charging capacity will require a learning curve depending on the time of year and the weather which will determine the amount of sunlight hours per day. By design, the system should have enough capacity to charge the

lanterns with little or no sunlight for 3 days. The large solar battery was enclosed in a locked box for safety. We handed out the lanterns over a period of several hours to the excited villagers and then trained the villagers one by one in their use. Some of the older folks had some minor issues with the dimmer switch concept and technique but that was overcome with a few minutes of training. The couple who were selected with the task of taking care of the solar power system and charging the lanterns seem to be quite dedicated and will make some extra cash by charging cell phones and flash lights. They also get the backup lanterns which will significantly save their kerosene costs.

Wiring the charge controller which is between the panels and the deep discharge battery

Kids studying with the traditional kereosene lamp

The rechargeable lantern is considerably brighter and better

Initial training in the use of the lantern

Instruction in the use of the lantern

A special performance

The day before leaving the village we had a meeting with the mothers’ group who requested help with a new water system. The government had already pledged 50,000 Nepalese rupees (Rps) and the estimated total cost is Rps 150,000. I suggested that they apply Rps 50,000 from sale of lanterns and a concerted effort should be made to contact all of the Namarkhu villagers working abroad in order to ask them to contribute towards a new water system.

I visited the water source which is about 1 km away and perhaps 250 ft. higher that the high point of the village in elevation. The pipeline path will require significant village volunteer labor but there are only perhaps 3 or 4 places where the pipeline would have to go over monsoon water runs. The pipeline path is not difficult by Nepalese standards. I advised several of the village leaders to measure the water flow several times over the next few months and also measure the distance the pipe will need to travel. They need to spend the government’s budgeted 50,000 rupees in the next few months or they will lose it as a new fiscal year starts. If they are diligent they could have a water system next fall or winter. This would be a great use of the money raised from the lantern sale. Currently they have agreed on a Rps 200 per month payment over 5 months.

Formal portrait after a meeting with the mothers group

We have already been approached by other neighboring villagers about getting them lanterns. I think the word will spread very fast and demand will be incredible. Biggest issue for me has been bug bites and the need to try to accommodate all the invitations for tea, snacks, dinner and drinks (local distilled millet drink called kodo ko rakshi) that everyone wants to serve us.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for your interest. I have lots more pictures posted at

Posted by: Mitch Silver | March 22, 2010

Pilot project installation completed – Success!

I’m just back from Namarkhu village. Initially we worked with the mothers  group and the other village leaders to determine the needs of the village.  More  meetings were held to organize and allocate responsibility for the project. We then went to get the solar hardware lanterns and returned a day later to install the central solar charging station. The next day we handed out lanterns to all 58 households in the village. The village cooperation was fantastic and you could feel the villager’s excitement when they got their lanterns. Other neighboring villages have already requested lighting projects and the Namarkhu villagers have requested an additional lantern for each household. Perhaps the biggest problem over the last 10 days was dealing with all the invitations from almost every household for tea, snacks, dinner and rakshi (local distilled drink made from millet). There was traditional Gurung singing and dancing every evening. Details to follow soon with images.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | January 27, 2010

Who’s coming and when

Who else is involved at the moment?

I’ll be joined in March by Kathleen Metcalf.  She will help document the project. The plan is to document the village and villager’s lifestyle and lighting project before, during and after the project.

Nobuko Hirota is a specialist in woman’s cooperatives and is an international volunteer in Nepal. She also has experience in other development projects suitable for village Nepal including improved cooking stoves and  in micro credit loans as it relates to village development. But wait, there’s more …

Posted by: Mitch Silver | January 24, 2010


We’ve had great sponsorship from Black Diamond Equipment who are generously donating their Apollo lanterns and rechargeable NiMH AA batteries and chargers. Peter Metcalf,  Black Diamond’s CEO, has not only committed his company’s resources but has brought on board Patagonia.

Posted by: Mitch Silver | January 24, 2010

An Affordable Village Lighting Project

Welcome! This blog presents the details of a prototype village lighting project. I hope you will read follow the links that describe the project details.