Changemakers & Social Transformers

Social and geological conditions are just some of the challenges faced by Sumba’s alternative renewable energy program. The SII initiatives, however, demonstrate that even in the most remote hamlets or poorest villages, successes are driven by noblemen, priests, entrepreneurs, as well as ordinary folks who engender a culture of sharing and collaboration. They are the changemakers.

The 6-hectares of hilly land has been in the possession of Umbu Mila’s family for years yet left untapped for 4 generations. Villagers in this mountain hamlet prefer to cultivate rice fields that relied on rainfall for irrigation –leaving it unusable throughout the dry season. While descendants of royalties, Umbu Mila and his family nonetheless had led a hard life. The handful of cattle they’d own has since long gone –stolen by cattle raiders even more unfortunate than them. “Everyone struggled on their own, suffered on their own,” he muses.

The rivers in Kondamara village in Lewa Tidahu district, East Sumba, flow through underground channels. “Mara”, unsurprisingly, means dry in the local language. Even simple gardening means hard work –until one day in 2012 when Umbu Mila allowed HIVOS to set up a solar-pannel water pump and invited 30 of his neighbors to cultivate his land. Everyone took part plowing the land while taking care and keeping an eye on the precious technology –in the process managing 3 harvests a year from the once-arid soil. “Come reaping time, we make Rp. 7 million from cabbages, corns, tomatoes, carrots, string beans and ‘noodle vegetables’ (Chinese broccoli).”

Umbu Pajukang, Regional Secretary at the Central Sumba Regency, readily admits that social cohesiveness is often as much a challenge as Sumba’s geological condition when providing access to electricity to the island. “Consider that people here think it’s still the government’s job to collect droppings from their own cattle for a biogas project that would have benefitted them!” What the SII project demonstrate, then, is that success comes from changemakers who are able to convince people to work together.

In Kodi, at the far end of Southwest Sumba, the Donders Foundation brought social unity through the revival of the ancient Marapu faith. “Even the poorest of the lot contributes woods and stones for the construction of our House of Learning,” father Mikael Keraf, enthuses. It’s partnership with SII on biogas technology provided pivotal change, turning former cattle thieves into diligent corn farmers –a story not too dissimilar to Heindrich Dengi and the women of Waingapu, East Sumba. Pigs, once sold by men to fuel drinking binges, are now harvested for their dungs, used as organic fertilizers in urban gardens.

It is not an easy job convincing people. Umbu Panjanji had to face Forest Rangers intent on stopping the Kamanggih villagers from carving a hill for their micro-hydro installation. For Umbu Mila resistance came even closer at home. “My late brother felt it was beneath him as a prince to work the garden,” he remembers. He soon changed his mind, however, after witnessing the 60 m3 capacity solar-pannel pump finally channel water, transforming their once-unproductive land into lush greeneries. “That was the first time his hand touched soil,” said Umbu Mila, happily. “Because of that, we are now able to build a modern stone house.” (YS/FI)

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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
→ The Enthusiastic Paksoy Farmers
→ From Crises to Innovations
→ Illuminating Sumba, Empowering Women
→ Sumba’s Collective Opportunities
→ 100% Renewable