Two weeks in India with a flashlight

By | March 16th, 2011 | No Comments

Women of the Ranai village scope out their new solar-powered flashlights.

In this post, Ximena Prugue recaps her two-week trip with fellow MDC student Stephany Torres to India to introduce solar-powered lighting to India’s rural poor. Check out our Feb. 16 post for more background on the Giving The Green Light project.

After months of planning, vaccinations, visa applications, and a series of stresses, it finally hit me: We’re in India. Staring out the window of our taxi in the early morning, I fought the urge to scream and stomp my feet like an excited child. In the streets, there was chaos: reckless drivers, loud horns, suicidal pedestrians, women in bright saris, hand-painted buses, motorcycles, bicyclists, abandoned cows, water buffalos, auto rickshaws, tiny sedans, and beautifully painted trucks, all set against the dusty streets of India.

Stephany and I spent a lot of time riding in the car through Delhi. We saw slums that looked like small villages crammed into the vacant spaces of the city. Even the smallest nooks were occupied by a vendor stand, and laundry hung from the most unlikely places.

On the first day, we bought our oh-so-cheap wardrobe so we would fit in a little better. We spent the next three days visiting the Lotus temple, Humayan’s tomb, Lodhi Gardens, Qutb Minar, and numerous other landmarks. On Sunday, we drove three bumpy hours to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, which were both breathtaking. The Taj Mahal was built as an act of love, an incomprehensible notion in a world where chivalry is pretty much dead.

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Dispatch from Jhabua: Village Life in Ranai

By | March 4th, 2011 | No Comments

Prugue's view while delivering the solar-powered gospel to the Korku tribe in Ranai.

This is MDC student Ximena Prugue’s second dispatch from India, where she aims to introduce cheap solar-powered lights to the subcontinent’s rural poor. Check out our Feb. 16 post for more background on Prugue’s Giving The Green Light project.

I just arrived at the house where the members of the Real Medicine Foundation live in Jhabua. The past couple of days we spent in Khandwa, another district in Madhya Pradesh. We distributed the flashlights to the Ranai village in Khandwa. We actually sold the lights to the villagers at 100 rupees, which is about two dollars, but the money went into a village fund that will be used for any projects they would vote on. We held a village meeting with the Korku tribe to introduce ourselves and discuss their biggest challenges and concerns. The two main problems were 1) Electricity at night so their children can study more, and 2) Access to toilets. Almost everyone in the rural areas, or any poor areas of India, including slums, defecates in the open. It’s funny how when we asked where they had toilets in the village, everyone knows EXACTLY where they are because there are only about three of them for a village of 5,000 people. When I say toilet, I actually mean just a concrete 4×4 room that has a hole in one of the walls. It’s not even a hole in the floor.

We stayed the night in the village of Raina to distribute the lights and get a feel for village life at night. Everything is pretty much pitch-black, except for the village leader’s house, which has electricity from 9 to 11 p.m. every other day. They actually only get enough kerosene to fuel a lamp for two weeks each month. So two weeks out of the month, they can’t do anything after sundown. They also wake up at about 4 a.m. to start doing housework and working on their crops.

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Dispatch from Delhi: Coke and other Sacred Cows

By | February 28th, 2011 | No Comments

If you read “Miamians Bound for India with a Solar Torch” (Feb. 16), you know MDC students Ximena Prugue and Stephany Torres flew to the subcontinent Wednesday on a mission to introduce cheap solar-powered lighting to Jhabua, a rural village in Madhya Pradesh, as part of their Giving The Green Light project. Prugue emailed us a few early observations and this photo from her hotel in Delhi before checking out and heading to Khandwa.

The moment we stepped out of the airport, the pollution in the air was overwhelming. We can feel our lungs putting effort when we breathe (and this might sound gross, but every time I blow my nose, the tissue is BLACK). What I do love about India is the array of colors. Everyone from wealthy to poor wears very bright colors, which contrasts the dirt all around. The only grass you will find in Delhi is in the tourist attractions, such as Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb. I was surprised at the amount of Indians that visit their own tourist attractions, unlike back home. Many people who have grown up in Miami have yet to visit Vizcaya, but in India, it is very common to hang out in the Lodhi Gardens or even the Taj Mahal in Agra.

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Miamians bound for India with a solar torch

By | February 16th, 2011 | 1 Comment
Giving The Green Light

Giving The Green Light aims to stop kids like this from smoking two packs a day (in effect).

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.

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