This Team Treks Hundreds Of KM In Himalayas To Electrify Villages That Are Not Even On Google Maps

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Imagine you are on a trek at an altitude of 11,000 ft, struggling to breathe while walking on a 2 feet wide path. Next, to a steep valley, a misstep will cost your life.

But a group of people from different parts of the world went through this unimaginable trek to electrify the 1000-year-old remotest village in Ladakh, Shade. The trekking group travelled 300+ Km through serpentine roads, streams and steep valleys via four wheelers and then trekked 125 Km to reach the village. The group spent 2 days in the village to set up 5 solar powered DC microgrids designed by ‘Global Himalayan Expedition’.

Expedition participants trekking dangerous mountains

This is not the only remote village ‘Global Himalayan Expedition’ team has electrified. Till date, they have electrified 82 villages impacting over 35,000+ people. There are multiple organisations that provide basic electricity to villages which are easily accessible but there are very few that provide electricity to the villages that are not connected by roads and are remotely located. To reach these villages the team has to trek for multiple days from the last point of the motorable road.

Top: The expedition team that electrified Shade; Down: Participants working on solar panels installation in the village

How Did ‘Global Himalayan Expedition’ Start?

Paras Loomba, an electronics and communication engineer quit his corporate job after completing an International Antarctica Expedition in 2012 led by Robert Swan, OBE founder of 2041.

“I realised there is a huge need in India itself to combat climate change using technology. After returning to India, I started a similar program involving social impact. The plan is to utilise clean technology to combat climate change in remote Himalayan villages. This is how ‘Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE)’ started. The first expedition was joined by 20 people from 10 different countries,” said Paras.

The First And Second Expedition

Being the son of an army officer, Paras lived in many remote parts of North East and in J&K. Paras was already familiar with the topography of these regions. He chose Ladakh as it had a large number of off-grid trekkable villages that were not connected by road. For the first expedition, the Global Himalayan Expedition team established an education centre in 2013 called ‘Third Pole Education Base’, in a 14×20 room in Mahabodhi school in Leh, with an aim to impart digital and experiential education for the students of Ladakh. The school houses students from the surrounding 50 villages.

One of the Third Pole Education Bases

“ At the end of the school year, I visited one of the student’s village, Sumda Chenmo, which is located at 13,000 ft, that had never seen light in its 1000 years of existence.  It took us 2 days to trek and reach the village. The village is beautiful with no roads and electricity. There it struck me, as engineers why cannot we provide this village with basic electricity,” said Paras.

At this juncture, Paras and his team decided to start the second expedition in 2014 to electrify this remote village using DC microgrid technology. The DC microgrid is easy to set up and also the voltage and current levels are low and not fatal to human beings as it may take days together to go to the nearest hospital.

Sumda Chenmo village. Image: MountainStays

Till now the team has electrified over 50 villages and most of these villages are remotely located on the hills. They have trekked for days and sometimes weeks to reach these villages.

Operations Model

The ‘Global Himalayan Expedition’ has three essential models for electrifying a remote mountain village.

  • Expedition Model: The cost for the Solar DC microgrid is collected or crowd funded from the participants who get selected. Generally, 20 participants are selected for each expedition. If the cost of the DC microgrid is 1 lakh, each participant pays Rs. 5,000 to Global Himalayan Expedition along with his/her expedition fees. The team along with the participants goes on an expedition, sets up the microgrid and lights up the village.
  • CSR funds: Many corporates spend their CSR funds to light up the villages. They fund the electrification costs through a foundation to GHE.
  • Funded by villagers: The Global Himalayan Expedition team reaches out to different regional heads or councillors to know if there are any villages without electricity. Then the team with the help of a local mountain guide visits the village, mobilises villagers and creates awareness on solar based electrification. After clearing doubts of the villagers on the process of electrification and gathering of funds starts, two villagers of them are chosen to open a joint account in the nearest bank which is sometimes a two-day trek.

Every household in the village contributes Rs.100-150 in the bank account every month for maintenance of the grid. The amount is not huge for the villagers as they anyway have to spend hundreds of rupees every month for buying kerosene oil to light lamps during the night.

The villagers then visit a local Ladakhi GHE entrepreneur who confirms the deposit and relays the information to the GHE team in Delhi. The required panels, batteries and other equipment are sent through a truck from Delhi to Leh and then to the last motorable point near to the village.

Horses carrying Micro Grid equipment

From there, the villagers carry the equipment to their village on horses or donkeys. The setup of the equipment is taken care by the GHE team or through the expedition. Also, the team trains two people from the village for the maintenance of the grid. The GHE entrepreneur also looks after the service centre where the LED lights and other microgrid electronics are repaired.

Positive Outcomes

There are multiple positive outcomes of electrification of villages.

  • Energy entrepreneurs: Apart from electrifying the villages the team also trains two people from each village to maintain the solar microgrids. For every cluster of villages that GHE electrifies, GHE setups a service centre to service these grids. These service centres are run by GHE chosen entrepreneurs. The villagers then pay these GEH entrepreneurs for any kind of grid servicing or additional LED lights they may want to invest in.
One of the local entrepreneurs
  • Village Transformation: One of the villages that the team electrified is Cha, located in the Zanskar valley of Ladakh. To reach the village from Leh one has to travel three days by four-wheelers and trek for two days. Once the electrification was completed the income in the village increased due to an increase in tourist homestays in their village. This brought additional income and now these villagers have access to television and information as they bought DC LED TVs from GHE. Most of the villages in this region depend on handicrafts and also tourists who trek. Before the advent of electricity, the tourists used to camp outside the village.

Now, seeing lights in the houses, they are preferring to stay at homes thus, increasing the revenue of the households. The trekkers pay extra and charge their mobiles and tablets. Due to the increase in the working hours, the families which depend on arts and crafts were able to make more number of handicrafts thus, increasing the income for the women.

  • Health: Previously, the villagers used to burn hundreds of litres of kerosene in the night, especially in winters, resulting in pollution and in turn causing health hazards. Now the villagers do not have to buy and burn kerosene.
  • Migration: The people who migrated from the villages are slowly returning as they see opportunities to work and get income.
Photo: Paula Bronstein. The lights of Lingshed Monastery shine bright. The volunteers worked hard for 3 days and installed 14 solar DC microgrids.

“It is not about giving light. Light is just a starting point. It brings opportunities, it brings income, it brings happiness, preserves the ancient culture and heritage of the village and also arrests migration of people” said Paras.

The Team

The Global Himalayan Expedition team consists of 5 full-time employees and approximately 24 contract employers who take care of various operations. Most of the full-time employees of GHE have left their corporate jobs to lead this initiative. Global Himalayan Expedition is now a ‘Team story’ than an ‘individual one’. The team also trains local  Electricians on DC solar microgrid technology so that there are enough trained electricians available to help these grids in future.

The GHE team.

Future Plans

After electrifying Ladakh, the team plans to move to North East India and to other mountainous regions of the world. In 2018 Global Himalayan Expedition team wants to introduce wireless communication systems powered by the same microgrids to all the villages in Ladakh.

Also Read: With 250 Check Dams This Woman Rescued 2 Lakh Villagers From Poverty And Tripled Their Revenue In 10 Years

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Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

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- Mother Theresa Quote

A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here :

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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It's not how much we give
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