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Solar-powered boats bring education, sustainable energy to poor communities

Page history last edited by Rosemary 9 years, 2 months ago

Solar powered boats bring education, sustainable energy to poor communities

The remote Chalanbeel region of Bangladesh is home to some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in Bangladesh, with boats being the only dependable means of transport, especially in the wet season where much of the area becomes flooded from monsoon rains. Many people have no land, no access to education, training or modern energy supplies, no electricity and almost no telephone lines, and very basic sanitation. While all children are entitled to free education, teachers are reluctant to stay in the region given its isolation and regular flooding.

Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan founded Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha in 1998 to help Chalanbeel communities develop sustainable livelihoods through access to education and training. Shidhulai has achieved this by building up a fleet of flat-bottomed boats, all made with locally available materials, that make their way through the shallow rivers and canals of the Chalanbeel to bring a range of educational services and renewable energy supplies to water-side families. Shidhulai has just been awarded the 2007 Ashden Award for Education and Welfare for its work.

The boats use solar PV modules to generate electricity that provides services including almost daily classes in primary education for children, libraries, training in sustainable agriculture, health advice, mobile phone and Internet access and battery charging facilities for solar home systems and solar lanterns. On some boats the PV supply is used mainly for lights, computers, DVD/CD players and video projector; on others, the PV energy supply is used mainly to charge batteries for the solar home systems and solar lanterns distributed by Shidhulai.

So far, Shidhulai has distributed 13,500 solar-homes-systems (SHS) and 2,500 solar lanterns, which are used mainly on fishing boats at night. Along with training in sustainable agriculture, Shidhulai has also distributed 15,000 bicycle pumps that deliver between 60 and 100 litres of water per minute - enough to irrigate half a hectare of land during the dry season. Micro-enterprise loans help landless women who want to set up small businesses.

Shidhulai's efforts have transformed the lives of the communities it serves. Girls, previously excluded from access to education because their parents couldn't afford it or did not want the girls to leave the village, are now attending school, and also receive rights based education on topics such as domestic abuse, child trafficking and prostitution through a distance education program provided by the Girl Children's Rights Association.

The PV-powered Internet and telephone access has helped people stay in touch with distant relatives and learn about what is going on in the 'outside world', provided advice on health and agricultural practices, and improved the career prospects of young people through the IT experience and skills gained through the PV-powered computers.

Shidhulai's focus on training villagers in sustainable agriculture such as water management, reducing run-off, pest control and reduction in chemical outputs, has achieved impressive results. Surveys suggest farmers have on average increased their incomes by 45% and decreased synthetic pesticide use by 60%, with about one third of farmers no longer using pesticides. Water quality in the rivers has improved due to the planting of 80 hectares of trees and grasses along riverbanks, resulting in improvements in aquatic life and also, potentially, reducing flooding.

The SHS and lanterns provide families with good-quality light in the evening for children to study and adults to do craftwork to earn extra income that is cheaper and less dangerous than kerosene lamps. Surveys suggest the use of solar lanterns for night fishing has helped raise the average fisherman's income by T 300 (£2) per month – significant in a region where monthly earnings are typically only T 1,200 (£10) - while also reducing accidents on and between boats at night. Bicycle water pumps have improved irrigation so dry season crops can be grown, and cultivated land has increased, allowing farmers to more than double their income.

As Shidhulai is only so far reaches only about 400,000 of the 20 million people living in Bangladesh villages accessible only by boat, there is significant possibility for expansion. Shidhulai plans to extend its work into the northeast and south of Bangladesh by 2008, and three other NGOs in Bangladesh are replicating its work. Shidhulai plans to use the award money to increase the number of solar powered boats and charging stations and to train local technicians to develop solar home systems locally.


UPDATE: Shidhulai wins 2007 UNEP Sasakawa Prize

The United Nations Environment Programme announced Sept. 27, 2007, that Bangladeshi NGO Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha and Ms. Jeunesse Park of South Africa are the co-winners of the UNEP Sasakawa Prize 2007, a $200,000 prize awarded yearly to individuals or institutions who have made a substantial contribution to the protection and management of the environment. Each co-winner will receive $100,000.

Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan, Shidhulai Executive Director, noted that the prize will help his organization "provide clean solar-powered lighting and educate thousands of people on literacy, sustainable farming and climate change", as well as promote "self-reliance for hundreds of villages in Bangladesh".

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize recognizes innovation, groundbreaking research and ideas, and extraordinary grassroots initiatives from around the world. The environmental theme for 2007 is climate change. "Leadership is urgently needed if the international community is to rise to the challenge of climate change-leadership from the United Nations; governments, scientists; business and cities, but also leadership from individuals and civil society organizations working on the ground," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director. "These two outstanding winners of the Sasakawa Prize 2007 embody leadership in its finest form - namely creative and determined action that demonstrates real and tangible difference to the people and communities they serve. In doing so our award winners are proving that combating climate change is not only do-able but links to the wider environmental, social and economic aims enshrined in targets such as the Millennium Development Goals," he added.


For other stories about solar power, see:

Unique rental model brings solar power to remote Lao villages

Solar power hearing aid battery offers hope for deaf in developing world

Bhutan’s yak herders prefer solar power to kerosene and firewood

Solar lamp replaces hazardous kerosene in Indian villages

Low tech systems improve water, sanitation in remote Afghan communities

Micro-hydro electrifies remote South American communities

Grameen Shakti, empowerment through renewable energy

From fu fu to solar power, Fab Labs let people make what they need

Recycled materials make solar cookers, save trees in Mali

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Solar water disinfection saves lives, money in largest Kenyan slum

World’s first solar cooker village helps cut deforestation in Somalia

Award-winning solar energy systems bring light, water to remote Ethiopian villages

Remote Argentinian villages get sustainable heat, power, and hot water from the sun

Sun helps South Africans cut power bills, save the planet

US company builds on Swiss technology to personalize solar power production

Grandmothers trained as solar engineers bring electricity to remote villages

Solar power brings World Cup to Ghanaian village

Women from four Malawi villages bring home solar power, and a prestigious award

Solar power brings electricity, water and education to Dominican Republic


For other stories about unique schools and universities, see:

Wrestling school brings new way of life for youth in Senegal

Unique Arctic university offers living circumpolar education to world's students

Unique South Africa university provides holistic, low-cost education

Paraguayan school brings agricultural education to low income areas

Mobile business school brings information to women in drought-stricken area of India

Creating a sustainable, self-funded vocational school in Tanzania

Yup'ik immersion school brings together aboriginal, western cultures 

eGranary Digital Library delivers knowledge to scholars in developing countries


Comments (1)

Answer Blip said

at 12:27 am on Feb 3, 2010

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