On Feb. 23, Ximena Prugue and Stephany Torres will fly to India on a mission to shed solar light on a rural village in Madhya Pradesh called Jhabua. As in many Indian villages, Jhabua’s villagers use kerosene lamps to light their homes, which means they breathe in disease-causing fumes all day long. Prugue and Torres, both Miami-Dade College students, hope to implement cheap solar-powered lighting in the village as part of their Giving the Green Light project. Funded in part by a $3,500 Clinton Global Initiative grant, the non-profit aims to “shine a light on energy poverty in India” by distributing 10,000 solar-powered flashlights to the country’s rural areas by June 2011.
I spoke to Prugue earlier today about the shocking deadliness of kerosene and her emotions as she got ready to embark on a daunting mission: introducing solar energy to rural India, the world’s most energy-impoverished nation, at the age of 20.
First of all, what is energy poverty, and why are kerosene lamps so bad?
XP: Energy poverty is the lack of access to electricity, or having no access whatsoever. So you rely on fossil fuels such as kerosene. The lamps release sulfur and nitrogen oxide, which are directly linked to lung cancer, eye infections, pneumonia, and chronic lung disease. Spending five to six hours in the room with a kerosene lamp is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. So it’s about 40 cigarettes that you’re smoking because it’s not in a well-ventilated area. That’s why two-thirds of lung cancer victims are non-smokers.
The lamps also cause about 300,000 fires per year. You walk by and knock it over, and everything goes up in flames very easily.
You leave for India in a week. How do you feel?
XP: It’s kind of unreal. I’m from Peru, and I’ve definitely seen slums in the city. Even here in Miami, you see poverty. But there’s a difference between city poverty and rural poverty. As much as I try to prepare myself for it, when I’m over there — there is no 911, there’s no family I can call to pick me up. I’m there on my own. It’s kind of exciting at the same time, because it’s something I never thought I’d do. Because I’ve been talking about it and working toward this goal for so long, I just want to go.
What’s the itinerary?
XP: We’re flying into Delhi, but we’re going to Jhabua, which is a district in Madhya Pradesh, a state south of Delhi. We’re going on a six-hour sleeper train, which is literally a box on wheels with mattresses.
We’re bringing 225 lights with us, and we’re meeting up with the Real Medicine Foundation in Jhabua. They’re setting us up in the village to distribute the lights. The plan is to stay with a member of the Real Medicine Foundation for one night to really get a sense of what it’s like to live with the kerosene lamps.
The next day we’re going to host a village meeting where we would explain why we’re there, why the kerosene lamps are bad for them, and why the solar lights are going to help save them money, going to make sure their kids don’t get sick anymore, going to help them tend to their cattle and their crops. We’re going to slowly introduce them to the idea of change, because people aren’t just going to throw away their kerosene lamps. We have to motivate them.
What do you hope to achieve on your first trip?
XP: From what I’ve heard from people who have been to India, things take a long time. So I can’t go with too many things to accomplish. The main accomplishment would be to deliver the lights to one village. That would be our prototype village. See how they like them, see how they’re using them, and take notes for the next trip.
People don’t really like to change their way of life. Bad habits die hard. I don’t want to go with too many expectations. I just want to go with a plan and see how it works. Because it’s definitely not going to be the only time I go.
Provided internet access, Prugue says she will keep us updated with dispatches from India. In the meantime, you can learn more about Giving The Green Light HERE.