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Solar Power in India Is Booming. So Why Are 130 Million Children Still in the Dark?

Solar initiatives in India shed light on educational possibilities for millions of children living in poverty.

Blessed with a tropical climate and favorable geographical conditions, India is making aggressive moves to become a world leader in solar energy. In 2015 alone, the country has seen the arrival of the world’s first airport that runs entirely on solar energy, an approved plan for 50 solar cities, and billions of dollars invested in the solar energy sector. With these substantial investments, the country is already on track to enter the ranks of the top five solar countries globally, according to the report of a solar intelligence firm, Bridge to India.

Yet, despite the fact that the sun shines on India for 300 to 330 days a year, more than 300 million citizens still live without access to electricity. Both a cause and a consequence of poverty, lack of access to electricity perpetuates the poverty trap for a variety of reasons, particularly by hindering educational opportunities for millions who call India—which has the highest rate of adult illiteracy in the world—home.


“There are 130 million children in India who miss out on education because they don’t have access to electricity,” says Kadiyala Dhanumjaya, director of Thrive Solar Energy, a social business providing solar power solutions to disadvantaged communities. A report last year from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs pointed out that significant opportunities result from flipping on the lights: “Youth literacy rates tend to be lower in countries with electrification rates below 80 percent... A major impact [of electrification] has been reducing illiteracy and improving the quality of education.”

“There are big solar investments all around India now. But if an off-grid area lacks access to energy, it can take eight to ten years to build the electricity infrastructure. And ten years is such a long time for a child’s life. They need an immediate energy solution to not fall behind,” Dhanumjaya explains.

This is where local organizations come in. Bangalore-based Pollinate Energy—which you can see in action in the slideshow above—recently announced that 47 percent of local households with school-going children say their kids can study better thanks to their solar lamps. And Thrive Solar Energy is leveraging the industry’s boom among poorer communities, as well. Since launching the One Child One Light initiative in 2009, Thrive Solar has provided 1.6 million children with clean, low-cost, and safe solar power solutions to enable them to maximize their educational potential.

Providing children with inexpensive solar solutions creates a snowball effect. Removing health and fire hazards minimizes environmental damage, then gives children a safe source of light that allows them to read, write, and feel secure going to and from school. Furthermore, solar power has the ability to rejuvenate the financial well-being of many households overall.

“A family [that doesn’t have access to electricity] uses 3.6 liters of kerosene a month. This costs $2.50. This isn’t exactly cheap for families who don’t have electricity in the first place. Kerosene poses high health and fire risks, especially for children. It also has a very high level of carbon dioxide emission,” Dhanumjaya says.

“We observed that when children have clean light sources, all the household benefits from that... When children are reading or doing homework, a lot of adults use their children’s light to work on their businesses. Some of them even produce sellable handicrafts,” he adds.

Providing children with portable solar lamps can bridge a significant educational gap. Yet it’s only a fragment of the educational potential that access to clean and reliable energy provides, according to Sarah Alexander, an analyst at SELCO Foundation, the charitable arm of SELCO Solar India.

In addition to providing individual solar light units to children, the charity helps educational facilities, including schools and student hostels, to install a centralized solar power system. Thanks to its solar-powered digital education program, many children living in remote areas can be introduced to technologies like computers and projectors.

“This alone completely alters the learning experience,” Alexander says. But while access to solar energy can have many tangible immediate benefits for children, its greatest strength lies in its ability to build community development from the ground up, while developing capacity over the long term. Reliable and clean energy can assist with removing asymmetries and discrepancies between urban and rural areas.

“Many young people move to big cities not necessarily because they like to, but they feel they don’t have opportunities to grow or make a difference in their own communities,” she says. “Having access to clean energy and hence all these tools really changes the perception of children about what they can learn and achieve in their own communities. A computer is no longer just a big city thing that they may see on a television. This removes a mental barrier that one has to go to a city to access opportunities.”

Alexander adds that “this difference in perception in what they perceive they can do and the confidence boost means improved livelihoods and entrepreneurship. They begin to solve their own issues… We sometimes underestimate children. They’re the real experts and they know their community’s needs very well.”

There’s no doubt that removing 130 million of India’s children from darkness will prove a mammoth task, and it will require a heavy involvement of social enterprises as well as communities themselves. But, says Alexander, “Stable, unfailing energy access boosts productivity for everyone.”

Slideshows
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

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Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

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The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

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In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

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The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

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