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 www.maui2000.com/PNG. 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.

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