In Afghanistan, grid electricity reaches only 38 percent of the population, leaving many residents in the dark. Many communities are remotely located in mountainous regions, making it cost prohibitive to expand the grid to service residents in those areas. Increasingly, solar power is filling the gap as the ideal energy source, given its low cost and the abundance of sunlight in the arid region. One international aid organization, inspired by the barefoot movement of India, is working to empower locals and provide means of self-employment while generating much-needed electricity for rural Afghans.
Afghanistan is a country with poor infrastructure that has been plagued by conflict for decades, making it nearly impossible to grow the existing grid. Solar power is a logical solution to the energy needs of residents, but it also creates a job market and allows solar engineers to become self-employed. The project is intent on distributing solar power systems to remote areas of Afghanistan by training local citizens in the special skills needed to install and maintain solar power systems. The efforts are backed by Norwegian Church Aid, a nongovernment organization that has already introduced solar to communities that previously had no electricity in Bamyan, Daykundi, Faryab, and Oruzgan. NCA has been actively working to help the people of Afghanistan since 1979.
The model for the program comes from India’s Barefoot College, where women learn to become solar engineers and then return to their villages as heroes. They teach others what they have learned, and install solar power systems wherever needed, earning up to $90 per day. The NCA project initially sent 10 students through the barefoot program in 2005, and now those master engineers have trained 84 more engineers scattered across Afghanistan. Many of them are women.
Images via Jim Holmes