Issue - April 2008

April 2008

In this month's issue, read about how Yalo Cuellar began his career; experience and taste traditional family dishes with one of Cochabamba's families; Heather Dieguez tells us about Energética; Walter Sánchez and Luis Fernando Terrazas come back to us with yet more interesting tales of more...

April 2008

Inti K’anchay: Lighting the Way for a Better Life

Energética member Iris Guzmán talks with Heather Dieguez about the organization’s ongoing project Inti K’anchay.

Heather Dieguez
Volunteer Projects Abroad
New York, United States

Everyday as we carry out our daily routines, whether it be flicking a light switch, checking our email or taking a hot shower, we take for granted the fact that without electricity, some of our most mundane tasks would be impossible. The extent to which we rely on electricity is made glaringly apparent during those panic stricken moments when we unexpectedly encounter a blackout.

Digging into the depths of our drawers, burrowing into the forgotten corners of our cupboards, we search for a flashlight or candle to give us some much needed, if not disappointingly dim, light while we wait for the power to return. Just persevering through a few dark hours feels like an incredible feat; to live like that on a regular basis seems like an impossibility. But for many people living in rural Bolivia, this is all part of their daily lives.

In many rural areas of Bolivia buildings are often situated at a great distance from one another, making it difficult to access electrical energy. For primarily this reason, many homes and communities lack electricity. Since its inception in 2005, the project Inti K’anchay has sought to provide electricity to these areas. The project is run by Energética, a Bolivian non profit organization that has worked in the field of energy development in rural Bolivia for fifteen years.

Inti K’anchay, Quechua for sunlight, calls for the installation of solar panels in participating households and communities in rural Bolivia. The project works in the municipalities of northern Cochabamba, such as Morochata, Anzaldo and Tiquipaya, reaching as far as the departments of Oruro, Potosi and Santa Cruz. The main goal of the project is to improve the quality of life for these families and communities without altering their own way of life.

The project consists of both a domestic and a social component, offering the installation of solar panels to family homes as well as community buildings, such as health centers and schools. Energética is also beginning to bring the project to tourist destinations within the departments of Oruro and Potosi, including Salar de Uyuni. By providing electricity to shelters that are lacking conventional sources of energy due to their distance and dispersion, the project hopes to increase the country’s ecotourism revenues.

While the initial plans for the project had solely called for the introduction of light to these communities, the organization soon recognized a need for communication as well. Communication, be it through radio or television, helps connect people to the world at large and can therefore prevent these communities from becoming isolated. They also found that radio communication between communities can be extremely helpful in the case of emergencies.

“If one community has a health center and another one doesn’t, it is easier for someone who is hurt to call for help,” Energética member Iris Guzmán explains, “For example, in the tropics we had a case where a pregnant woman told us that, thanks to the solar panels, when she was bitten by a snake she was able to call for an ambulance just in time to save her life.”

Energética’s vision for the project Inti K’anchay is not only to introduce electricity to these remote communities, but for it to be sustainable and long term. Households that take part in the program also receive periodic maintenance visits for two years following installation in order to ensure the longevity of the project. In addition, the households are instructed on how to properly maintain and handle the equipment in hopes of further lengthening its duration. So far, the project has received a fair amount of success in this respect. “Some people have their panels with them for eight years,” says Iris, “The battery lasts for two years with a warranty, so that means those people are taking good care of their systems.”

Funding for the project comes in large part from the European Union, which has provided a grant that covers 60% of the cost of installation. The remaining 40% is paid for by the families receiving the panels. In some cases this percentage can be reduced if the municipality agrees to contribute a portion of the costs. The effects of the project have been wide-spread. The installation of the solar panels has increased safety within these communities.

Homes that had previously relied on candlelight have greatly reduced their vulnerability to fires. The added visibility at night can also illuminate any dangers that may be lurking in the shadows. “We had a case where somebody entered her house, turned on her light, and saw a snake five meters away from her,” says Iris, “This gave her time to run away.” The solar panels have also proved helpful for business-minded individuals, as the addition of electricity can greatly improve efficiency in the workplace. For example, in agricultural production, machinery can be used to aid in the process of peeling or selecting grains. The project has also supplied communities with vaccine refrigerators, which bring along with them significant health benefits.

Perhaps the biggest impact of the project will be on the children within these homes and communities. The addition of light to a household enables these children to do their homework at night, a significant change for children who often must help theirfamily with chores during the daylight hours. Also, the project enables the incorporation of computers within the schools of these communities. This can develop a familiarity with technology that can open doors for these children in the future.

So far, the project has been well-received within these communities. In the last year, Energética installed 425 systems to homes in rural areas. In addition, they maintain that there are more than 1400 interested in participating in the project in 70 communities in Tiquipaya, Morochata, Anzaldo, Arque, and Quillacollo. For 2008, they plan to install 1,000 systems to 1,000 families, as well as thirty systems from the social component.

El "Arbol del Pueblo"

At the north of Cochabamba was the beautiful countryside of Calacala. At the beginning of the XX Century, during summer, almost all the families from Cochabamba would move here to pass the long season, enjoying walks through the fields, and bathing in the springs...

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