Illuminating Sumba, Empowering Women

There’s more to Sumba Iconic Island program than providing alternative renewable energy. The initiative aims to kick-start community-based businesses, in particular helping those who had suffered the most from the lack of electricity: women. In Kamanggih, Kodi, Lewa and Waingapu we’re seeing maternal mortality rates declining, children studying in the evening, and people becoming more enterprising –setting a strong example for the rest of the country.

Ina Panjanji’s most poignant memories went back to 1977, the year she started her career as midwife at Kamanggih village. Most of East Sumba has yet to enjoy electricity, back then. Child-birth were done by the dim light of kerosene lamp. “We rode horses on home visits and at night we traveled up and down dark hills and valleys carrying lighted torches,” remembers the woman who had delivered over 200 babies since then. “Sometimes we can already hear the deathwails from afar.”

Those who survived would not necessarily enjoy a brighter future. In the old days, villagers relied on resins from the Agathis Dammara conifer to disperse the darkness around them. “You break and dry the seeds and set them on fire to create light,” remembers Markus Karepi Muama, a teacher at the Praimarada Elementary in Lewa district. Little would change over the next half a century except the increased use of kerosene –the cause of Sumba’s high prevalence of Acute Respiratory Infections according to dr. Alhairani Mesa, Director the Lindimara Catholic Hospital in Waingapu.

Initiated in 2010, the Sumba Iconic Island project has not only been providing access to electricity to the island’s 650,000 inhabitants. It has also reduced reliance on expensive and environmentally-harmful fuels such as diesel and kerosene. “Sumba is blessed with a number of underground rivers, lots of days with bright sunlight, strong coastal and mountain winds, and biogas potentials from cattle dungs –enough supply for the 13 MW required to boost its economy until 2020,” enthuses Danny Suhandi, Head of the Energy and Mineral Resources and Mining Office of East Nusa Tenggara in Kupang. Sumba’s success, therefore, can become an example for the rest of Indonesia.

Slowly but surely, SII is bringing positive changes especially to women and children who are most affected by the lack of electricity access. With power running 24-7 from the Bakuhau micro-hydro power plant, constructed back in 2012, the people of Kamanggih can now use their mobile phones to seek immediate help during deliveries. “Mothers can nurse their babies by the light of their lamps,” explains Midwife Ina. Consequently, maternal and infant mortality rates have dropped significantly; students are doing better at school because now they can study in the evening; and last but not least, women are becoming more independent.

Heinrich Dengi’s project is one such example: teaching moms convert cattle dungs into biogas fertilizers for urban vegetable gardens. “They are earning their own income for the first time ever,” said the owner of MAX FM Waingapu radio station. Similarly, in Kondamara, Lewa district, rev. Lidya Awang no longer worries. The SII Solar Panel Water Pump, managed by the whole village, has transformed her late husband’s uncultivated land into lush garden. “Eating vegetables used to be a luxury we couldn’t afford. Now we have everything we need here,” she explains, her face beaming with joy. Harvests come thrice a year, each time providing her with an extra income of Rp. 2.2, million –enough to put her children through school. (FI/YS)

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→ Prosperity from Clean Energy
→ Switching on Lights, Saving Valuable Lives

→ Burying the Hachet, Harvesting Light
→ Carving Away on the Dark Ages
→ Changemakers & Social Transformers
→ The Enthusiastic Paksoy Farmers
→ From Crises to Innovations
→ Sumba’s Collective Opportunities
→ 100% Renewable