Fr Dr George Kannanthanam
“You are the light of the world” (Mt 5/14). When Jesus said this 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 most vulnerable situations in some of the most difficult terrains in the country, at the cost of six million rupees. We are extremely glad to be able to contribute meaningfully to this years World Environment Day on June 5th, Sunday through this intervention.
On Thursday the 3rd of June, a team of volunteers including me from Hope Society and Good Quest Foundation along with the leadership and members from KEF reached the Shey Village, in the outskirts of Leh in the Union Territory of Ladakh in the extreme North of India and fixed solar lights for 40 families who were destined to live in constant darkness. We were implementing the Light the Nation, a pan India initiative of the US based organisation called Karmodaya. In the next few weeks time, the team will give light to 325 most deserving families, spread across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, known as the ‘roof of the world’. Remote areas in Zanskar and Kargil in Ladakh, Batote and Majalta Kashmir in J&K are the other locations.
One of the first houses we covered was that of Mr 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 which 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 very happy 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.” His wife was jubilant. (photo 1)
Another house, the volunteers covered after we handed over the solar kits to them in a function in the presence of local Sarpanch at the Moravian Church campus was that of Achay Dolma. (photo 2) She was 80 years and was living alone. After fixing the lights she said, “now I can go out of my house also after sunset.” (photo 3)
The solar set given by us 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 speciality is that the panel can charge even without sunshine. Even a cloudy weather is sufficient to charge it. This makes it very useful to this terrain which does not have sunshine for days together. The cost of each family unit is 7500 rupees.
Every one of the families have been selected by personal verification by our volunteers from KEF on the ground with the support of the local Sarpanch, the elected representative. The criteria 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% households that does 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 between various organisations from different socio economic linguistics and religious backgrounds, based in different locations.
The concept and the fund mobilisation was done by Karmodaya, a US based social service organisation consisting mostly of Indians settled there. Various interventions to support their countrymen back in India were initiated by these expats specially in Covid times.
Hope Society, a 30 year old social initiative of the Claretian Fathers, a Congregation in the Catholic Church based in Bangalore, handled the finances and were also involved in the implementation. Good Quest Foundation is an organisation of young professionals also based in Bangalore. They did the overall coordination between the groups involved.
The ground work was carried out by Kashmir Evangelical Foundation (KEF). They identified the beneficiaries through their network. They linked up with the local administration and got the necessary permissions. They mobilised volunteers and the entire logistics of the operation like travel and stay. Bishop Santhosh Thomas personally directed the entire mission. Their couldn’t be a better example of ‘shared mission’.
This was the third joint operation for Light the Nation project. It was launched on August 15th 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 Indian Republic Day January 26th in Nagarhole tribal belt of Karnataka near Mysore for 325 families. Including the present drive in the North, we have covered 800 households.
With more such initiatives, we could lead more people from ‘darkness to light’. Our human habitat would be more environment friendly.
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