Bringing light and hope to Birgunj, Nepal
By Amuda Mishra, Founder of Ujyalo
After planning for over six months, I was at Denver International Airport on the 25th of May to turn my ideas into reality, to bring light to those who needed it more than us and deserve it as much as we do. It was time for me to fly to Nepal to bring my prototype to life.
UJYALO, the name of my venture, didn’t just start as a happy accident; it was a well-caressed idea to tackle the very real problem of energy scarcity in Nepal. Ujyalo, which also means the light in Nepali, was born after watching a video from “A Liter of Light” organization in one of my classrooms.
While I was trying to fathom how a thrown plastic bottle could be used to create light, I was also thinking, in parallel, about its scope in Nepal. The concept was easy. 55 watts of light could be created by mixing distilled water and bleach in a plastic soda bottle.
I was fascinated, thrilled and excited to bring this idea to Nepal, where Ujyalo would not only serve as an alternative source of energy but also a medium to shift perceptions about energy in developing countries and as a catalyst for social and environmental innovation.
After two days of flying and transit stops in a couple countries, I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, the city where I spent 17 formative years of my life.
Physically not much has changed since my last visit in 2010. Kathmandu was still a bustling city with natives and foreigners from everywhere, houses hovering over one another, crazy traffic, fancy restaurants and pubs, temples at every nook and corner, breathtaking mountain range surrounding the city, outrageous amounts of energy and a dream hub for many to come and liberate their ideas and follow their hearts. Kathmandu is ever full of life and charm. Despite all the liveliness, Kathmanduites and almost all Nepalese in general suffer from the growing scarcity of electricity. I was here with Ujyalo to alleviate some of this issue and my venue was Birgunj.
Birgunj is one of the industrially growing cities in Nepal, right across from the Indian border. We targeted rural communities of the city, especially families that couldn’t afford electricity or did not have access to electricity during the day.
With a goal of installing 1000 units of solar sustained “bottled water bulbs” Ujyalo started its quest in early June. The first phase of the project was a huge success with a lot of positive response. Within a week we had installed 132 units of bottle bulb in 84 houses. While Ujyalo was on its way to embark changes in energy and innovation, my attention was drawn to a few societal flaws we as Nepalese still had to overcome.
One of them was omnipresent gender discrimination. While one of the aspects of the project was also to uplift the status of women by providing stay-at-home women some light during the day so that they can possibly pursue a career, I myself struggled to get out of the cycle of scrutiny of some of my family members and the society.
I was constantly hounded to answer why a single woman at the age of 26 was travelling to these remote villages and volunteering her time and energy to help “these” people as opposed to earning money and having a family. I think the three things the society wasn’t able to put together were: “volunteer”, “remote places” and most importantly “single woman”.
As there is a long way to go to shift the perception of individuals in Nepal about alternative energy and innovation in particular a “bottle bulb” project like Ujyalo, we also have a long way to go to embrace the concept of female volunteers and philanthropy in itself.
About Ujyalo- From 1 Liter to 55 watts
Ujyalo has been on the ground since June installing “bottle-bulbs” powered by sunlight, water and bleach. With the help of Sano Paila, Ujyalo’s collaborative partner, 132 units of these light bulbs have been installed in 84 houses. Due to the heavy monsoon season in Birgunj, the project has been temporarily suspended and will resume again in August.
All 1000 units will be installed by October of this year. Meanwhile the team for Ujyalo has been working on fostering community relations and educating community members and partners about the new “bottle-bulb” system. The future goal of Ujyalo is to expand all over Nepal and install as many “bottle-bulbs” as needed.
Ujyalo and the team would like to thank its sponsors especially Gold Sponsor Abroad Nepal and Microsoft, collaborative partner Sano Paila, media partner Asian Avenue magazine, and individual donors for the tremendous support. You all have made an impactful change in a small community half way across the world now where people have access to light to build better future and life!
For more information about UJYALO, visit www.ujyalo-nepal.com.