“It’s not about talking, it’s about doing; it’s not about problems, it’s about solving them. Everyone can do it.” With this ideology, a bunch of students from HR College of Commerce & Economics, Mumbai are lighting up villages of Maharashtra.
The striking part isn’t the fact that they are just a bunch of students who are affecting the immense transformation but it is the speed with which they have executed their idea. They conceptualised it on January 11, 2010, and by March 12, 2010 had accomplished their task of lighting up 82 out of a total of 111 homes in Ujjaini, a tribal village in Thane district of Maharashtra. 99 villages have since been lit up by their innovative endeavor.
Each house gets one fixed and one portable solar lamp. Initially, students contributed Rs 10 each to buy these lamps. But now, due to its exponential growth, the project has attracted individual and corporate donations.This initiative is a part of Project Chirag, started by the Students In Free Enterprise, HR College.
How it started
SIFE HRC, established in 2008,initially concentrated more on urban projects. But soon the volunteers felt the need to explore sustainable business models for rural development. They got a list of dark villages from TERI and formulated a five-point transformation model that is scalable and can be applied to any dark village in rural India.
This five-point plan would look at a holistic solution to transform rural lives and provide for:
– Solar electrification
– Health and sanitation
– Economic upliftment and
– Social development
Phase I of Project Chirag is to electrify dark villages using solar lighting because achieving the remainder of the four points in the transformation model depend on lighting up villages first.
While their motive was noble, it wasn’t going to be an easy task. They knew that the key to Project Chirag’s success lay in winning the tribals’ trust.
Hence they needed somebody who would introduce the SIFE HRC volunteers to the tribals and act as a facilitator. With the help of their college principal they managed to get an appointment with Jayant Patil, Maharashtra’s rural development minister who, after listening to their five-point transformation model, was mighty impressed and helped them touch base with deputy COO of Thane zilla parishad, Deepak Waigankar.
That meeting, which also included Ujjaini’s gram sevak and block development officer, helped these students establish trust among the tribals. The locals were at a greater ease working with a body like the zilla parishad than dealing directly with a bunch of enthusiastic students who were total strangers to them. Soon the tribals were receptive of their ideas and plans.
The next important step for SIFE HRC volunteers was to collect funds to buy solar lamps to light up the village and seek a vendor who would provide them with these lamps at a reasonable cost.
They accidentally chanced upon a social entrepreneur, who agreed to sell them at a nominal cost of Rs 3,650 per unit that would include one LED-powered lantern, one tubelight, one battery encased in a protective cover, two solar panels and wiring.
They decided to raise the money from among the students.They were 6,000 students in all and if each one of them contributed even Rs 10, they thought, they would have made a small beginning.
Their idea caught the attention of all those who wanted to be a part of transforming the society.
All the students from junior as well as degree colleges came together and unanimously decided to work on it. They wanted to experience the thrill and joy of getting something beyond a college award or a passing certificate.
They started a campaign- ‘Missing For A Mission’- to catch the attention of students.
In the first phase of this campaign tubelights and other sources of light were taken off from all the common spaces like corridors (done by a team of 250 students and support staff of the college) and posters were pasted at vantage points that said ‘Tubelights missing for a mission’.
The darkness in the corridor really made a lot of students understand how people with no electricity feel. On the staircase they wrote ‘The person walking before you is missing for a mission’; the canteen benches said ‘The person who ate before you is missing for a mission’.
That set the ball rolling with each and every student wondering what and why is everything and everybody missing for a mission.
While the curiosity of the entire college was palpable, only 250 out of the 6,000 students knew exactly what was happening. But then, it was also important to hammer their minds with the message when they were not in college so as to sustain the momentum.
They created a group on Facebook ‘Missing for a mission. Within a month they got 950 followers from Germany, Australia, Malaysia — all genuine people — who said they were willing to help them in their mission, whatever it was.
This created a crazy buzz around their campaign and helped create awareness among all the college students.
The final day’s campaign completed the slogan: ‘These many Indian villages could be lit up with your help only if you could give Rs 10 for lighting up a rural home’.
As expected, most students donated more than Rs 10. Some didn’t drink a small bottle of cola one day and contributed Rs 10, some of them didn’t eat chips for a day to contribute, some travelled by bus instead of a cab to contribute Rs 10.
In the four days after their campaign was unveiled the 250 volunteers with sandwich boards across their chests, saying ‘Rs 10 for light’, with receipt book in their hands (they wanted every penny they collected to be accounted for), moved around the college and managed to collect a whopping Rs 5,15,000!
That was the power of Missing For A Mission.
Now that the money was arranged, the next challenge was to work on the condition of their vendor- to provide him with a disadvantaged community who he would train to make solar lamps so that they can also uplift their lives economically.
To achieve this, they first sent 10 to 12 SIFE HRC volunteers who learnt the technique of making these solar lamps. These volunteers then trained paraplegics (those who are paralysed below the waist) to assemble solar lamps.
Today each such paraplegic person earns Rs 30 on every lamp s/he assembles. And with each person assembling 7 to 10 lamps a day, they earn far more than what they earned previously.
The only shop in Ujjaini would run only till about 6 in the evening or close before sunset. But with solar lamps in place the shopkeeper is able to run his shop till about 9 pm now, sell more and earn more.
The solar lights help many students of the village to study beyond sunset. The time they save now by not going to the forest to collect firewood is spent on producing artifacts, weave cloth for their own consumption as well as to sell it to neighbouring villages. As a result their income level has also increased.
Earlier the womenfolk in this village had to do all their household chores like cooking before sunset but with solar lamps they work through the day and use them to cook food at night. The three to four hours saved every day are now used to produce goods, helping add to their income.
What started with 1 village, 250 volunteers and Rs.10 contribution by each student, has now evolved to reach 99 villages, plenty of volunteers and generous corporate donations.
Indeed if we want, we can make a difference.