Light the Nation – Environment Day ODS 7 10, 17
Hope Society Secretary
Hope Society of the Bangalore Claretians celebrated World Environment Day (June 5) in an impactful way by providing solar lights to one of the most remote areas of India, Leh in the Union Territory of Ladakh, known as the ‘roof of the world’. It was implemented as a shared mission, involving various other socially committed groups.
When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5/14) more than 2000 years ago, I don’t know whether he ever imagined that some of his disciples would literally go around fixing lights in places where there is no light.
This is what the ‘Light the Nation’ program has done to 800 families in the most vulnerable situations in some of the most difficult terrains in the country, at the cost of 6 million rupees.
On June 3, the volunteers from Hope Society and Good Quest Foundation along with the leadership and members from the Kashmir Evangelical Foundation (KEF) reached the Shey Village, in the outskirts of Leh in the Union Territory of Ladakh in the extreme North of India. We fixed solar lights for 40 families who were destined to live in constant darkness in the next two days.
We were implementing the Light the Nation, a pan India initiative of the US-based Organisation called Karmodaya. In the next few weeks, the team will give light to 325 most-deserving families, spread across Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, situated in the extreme north of India. Remote areas in Zanskar and Kargil in Ladakh, Batote and Majalta Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir are the other locations.
One of the first houses we covered was that of one Hera. He had migrated from Nepal in 2019 and was struggling to make a living for his family of six, including his three children and aged Father. He makes soil bricks that are not burnt, used all over Leh as there is no rain in this region, except snow. He lives in his self-made single-room house with no electrical connections. Hera was overjoyed to get the solar light from us. He said, “My wife can now cook also at night and my children who joined me recently from Nepal can study.”
Another house was Achay Dolma’s. We handed over the solar kits to them at a function in the presence of the local Sarpanch at the Moravian Church campus. The 80-year-old woman was living alone. After fixing the lights she said, “Now I can go out of my house also after sunset.”
The solar set given by the Hope Society for a family consists of a tube, two bulbs, a torch and mobile charger. It is made by Dlight Company, which claims to make the most compact solar panel and lights in the world. It can be used for four to six hours when all the lights are used together. In low mode, it can be used for six to eight hours.
The specialty is that the panel can charge even without sunshine. Even cloudy weather is sufficient to charge it. This makes it very useful for this terrain which does not have sunshine for days together. The cost of each family unit is 7,500 rupees. (100 US$).
Everyone in the family has been selected by personal verification by our volunteers from the KEF on the ground with the support of the local Sarpanch, the elected representative. The criterion was to cover the families in the peripheries like migrants, tribals, widows, and elderly living alone. Many of them like migrants don’t have an identity card to get an electric connection. Thus the program has been a great blessing to the most distressed groups of the population. India has about 13 percent of households that do not have access to grid-connected electricity.
People lived totally dependent on the mercies of nature in this region. Six months of the year from October to March, the entire valley is cut off from the rest of the country as roads are closed due to snowfall. With hardly anything produced in this extreme climate, people have to bring everything from the mainland during summer and store up for winter. Their work and savings are limited to six months. Most people live on tourism-related activities. Though this was the best climate of the year, the temperature at night was 6 degrees Celsius and during the day around 15. Thus a light at home is essential for their life.
‘Light the Nation’ is a shared mission among various organizations from different socioeconomic linguistics and religious backgrounds, based in different locations.
The concept and the fund mobilization were done by Karmodaya, a US-based social service organization consisting mostly of Indians settled there. Various interventions to support their countrymen back in India were initiated by these ex-pats, especially in Covid times.
Hope Society, a 30-year-old social initiative of the Claretian Fathers, handled the finances and was also involved in the implementation. Good Quest Foundation is an organization of young professionals also based in the same southern Indian city. They did the overall coordination between the groups involved.
The groundwork was carried out by KEF. They identified the beneficiaries through their network. They linked up with the local administration and got the necessary permissions. They mobilized volunteers and the entire logistics of the operation like travel and stay. Bishop Santhosh Thomas personally directed the entire mission. There couldn’t be a better example of a ‘shared mission.’
This was the third joint operation for the Light the Nation project. It was launched on August 15, Independence Day, at Male Mahadeshwara Hills (MM Hills) in Karnataka providing light to 150 tribal families living inside the forest. The second was done on January 26, Indian Republic Day, in Nagarhole tribal belt of Karnataka near Mysore for 325 families. We have so far covered 800 households.
With more such initiatives, we could lead more people from ‘darkness to light. Our human habitat would be more environment-friendly.
Hope Society, started by students at Claretian Seminary in 1988, has been spearheading various creative initiatives in the social sector to benefit the most vulnerable sections of the society like those affected by drugs, HIV, disabilities, and disasters. ‘Light the Nation’ is the latest campaign involved by Hope.