How Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chile

Liliana and Luisa Terán are two indigenous women from northern Chile who traveled to India for training in installing solar panels. Together, they have not only changed their future, but that of their remote village, Caspana, as well. “It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” explained Liliana Terán.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” explained Liliana Terán. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Liliana’s cousin, Luisa, said that before they made the transition to Asia, there were over 200 people interested in implementing solar energy in the village. That number dropped to 30 when it was discovered that these two women would be the ones responsible for installing and maintaining the solar panels and batteries, however.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” explained Luisa, 43, who has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. Now a single mother of an adopted daughter, she graduated secondary school in Calama and went on to take several courses, including one in pedagogy.

An electric generator, which gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening, powered the village up to 2013. The generator broke frequently, however, leaving the entire village in the dark. Today the generator is a mere back-up system for the 127 houses thanks to the solar panels the cousins installed.

Every home is equipped with a 12-volt solar panel, a 12-volt battery, a four-amp LED lamp, and an eight-amp control box thanks to a donation received by the Italian company Enel Green Power.

The cousins owe their training to the donating company, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, which allowed them to learn at the Barefoot College in India.

Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organization that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.” To date, 700 women from 49 countries have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers.” The two women traveled to college in March 2012 along with Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian.

Upon their return, the cousins began to put their education to the test. They began by charging 45 dollars to install the solar panel kit in homes in the village. As a result of their training, the cousins and other Barefoot solar engineers must install, repair, and maintain the solar panels in their respective villages for a minimum of five years.

The community now pays the cousins 75 dollars each month to maintain, every two months, the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” explained Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. They were required to sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she said. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

Source: How Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chile – Collective Evolution