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How Electricity Changed an Island Forever

Installing the final module on a solar panel.

Mahendra Paswan has lived in Diyara Rasulpur, India—or, as it’s known by its residents, “The Island”—for 60 years, often in almost complete darkness. For as long as he can remember, Mahendra, a farmer, and many of his neighbors, relied on lamps lit by the 2.5 liters of subsidized kerosene that they received every month from the Public Distribution Supply. Mahendra’s young grandchildren were forced to sleep in the dark, and on the few occasions when they kept their wick burning into the night, they feared that there might be an accident.

“When [the] children saw the bulbs light up for the first time, they cried out in joy!”

But in September 2013, life for Mahendra and many of his fellow Island dwellers changed. One of the customers of the newly constructed solar power plant on the tiny river island located in middle of the Ganges, he marveled that “darkness has been dispelled” since he signed up for electricity.

“When [the] children saw the bulbs light up for the first time, they cried out in joy!” he shared. Mahendra’s grandchildren found it more convenient and exciting to study under the friendly light of the bulbs as opposed to the unpleasant fumes of the kerosene lamp.

The solar power plant is one of the many being constructed over the coming years in India under The Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power India initiative. Recognizing that energy is a driver of human progress and development, the initiative aims to bring electricity to rural areas, and thereby achieve positive social and economic impact in education, health, nutrition and jobs creation.

Based on a recent household survey, remarkable changes are already taking place. There’s been an average increase of study time by one-to-two hours after dusk. Seventy nine percent of parents also suggested that children’s interest in studying increased with better light.

Parents are now asking for tutoring centers and evening classes in the villages. Kusum Gupta, a mother of four children, voiced the new sense of hope and aspiration on the island: “Just to be able to sit and talk to your children at night, help them study,” she said. “Everything is possible.”

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