Can a Swedish company change lives and bring a brighter future to a villageon the other side of the world? You betcha! Just ask Holtab, a company that literally began lighting up the Himalayas two years ago.
6,400 kilometers from home
We took the first step towards bringing light to Jyamrung on June 15, 2009 when a work group was formed at Holtab. Employees attended lectures on Nepal, sketched out solutions and contacted our Nepalese collaborative partners. The TukiNepal Society Sweden helped us open a few doors and the project was soon underway.
The fact that Tingsryd and Jyamrung are 6,400 kilometers and several time zones apart quickly became obvious. The altitude difference between the highest and lowest building in Jyamrung is around 2,700 feet. Jyamrung is not on the map. Here planning means paddy fields and buffaloes, and everyday life is far closer to divine mythology than it is to technological progress.
Just because something works behind a desk in Småland doesn’t mean it will in Nepal, but the ability to act now yet think long term are important nonetheless in retaining the confidence of villagers who often feel foreign aid projects mean broken promises.
Light drove out the darkness from Jyamrung in November, 2009. Seven low-caste families received electricity for two lightbulbs and a wall socket via solar cells. It may not seem much, but from then on their children could do their homework in the light. What's more, the wall socket and cell phone combination allowed contact with the outside world and with fathers and sons working in Qatar and Malaysia.
In 2010 Holtab began planning for the next stage where another hundred houses or so would receive electricity. But how? The company's trips to Nepal had provided some answers – wind power was out due to the lack of wind and the idea of connecting the village to the national supply was dropped owing to the constant outages and uncertain political situation. Instead the choice was Barhmale Khola, the mountain stream behind the village school. A micro-hydro plant would mean eco-friendly electricity and reduce the pressure on the valuable Himalayan forests that often provide firewood and energy for rural villages – a unique biodiversity that would otherwise go up in smoke.
Picks and spades
The power plant in Jyamrung was to be small scale, eco-friendly and belong to the village. This was the set-up: Holtab would provide plant finance and know-how and the village would run and maintain it through trained line operators.
It took exactly 19 months from concept to finished power plant. Several knotty Nepalese problems were solved in the process: contracts were signed and breached, and a cheating Nepalese supplier was replaced with an honest one. The way ahead was straight and narrow – no concessions to corruption and no compromise on safety or standards. Finally even the monsoons abated and the villagers took up their picks and spades to begin the work under the supervision of two able Nepalese engineers.
A glimmer of light
The longed-for micro-hydro plant stood ready in March, 2011. Light now shines from Jyamrung's windows. The tariff is significantly lower than what the villagers previously paid for lamp oil, but still enough to cover maintenance. And most important of all – the plant is owned and run by Jyamrung's own proud villagers.
Holtab's Nepal project is setting its sights on the next stage – to make electricity a natural part of people's lives and show how electricity can make life easier. In just a few years Jyamrung has leapt out of the middle ages into the present day.