We sure had quite a year

A poor ChristmasOh, jingle bells, jingle bells/Jingle all the way! It’s time of the year again when streets are illuminated, houses are decorated, shoppers are treated, kids are awaiting for Santa to receive gifts. No civic citizen can ignore the other side of the story. There are mothers who lack means to cook a meal on Christmas Eve, fathers who struggle for livelihood on New Year’s Day and kids who never receive a holiday gift.

REEF hopes to assist the needy people year around, empower poor women and children and end generational poverty by employing clean technology. Another week to go before 2013 becomes past and REEF, a nonprofit start-up, can call it quite a year.

REEF was on the wheel on road and water. REEF became outreach partner in Philippine inter-island sailing regatta. 200 solar lanterns were distributed to children of Kanwan Elementary school. Volunteer visited the Filipino families who were either pre-qualified or newly vetted for Family First Program. More than 30 families continue to receive Family First program benefits as well as training and maintenance service on environment friendly cook stove and solar lantern. Typhoon Haiyan hit central Philippines islands. Along with numerous devastating effects the storm Yolanda plunged the islands grid into darkness. Some of the islands were always off the grid and overlooked by government. REEF will distribute solar lanterns directly avoiding relief agencies to be assured that the lanterns will reach intended people. 

Indubitably, REEF’s donors, volunteers and supporters have earned sincere thanks for making enlightenment a reality. You deserve the right to know what REEF, together with you could accomplish. I will come back to my readers in next month with a planned dream of 2014.

Wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

By Manimala Kumar

The Light of Hope and Survival

TYPHOON-HAIYAN-2013Super typhoon Haiyan has slammed Tacloban, Leyte, central Philippines on Nov 10, 2013. Death toll has risen to 10,000 approximately. No building in the coastal city possibly have escaped damage from Haiyan. How can Mother Nature behave in such a cruel and inscrutable way? In a tearful speech Yeb Sano, the Philippines’ climate change commissioner, said that the storm’s historic strength is directly tied to rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns. Haiyan tragedy underscores the burning need of environment protection.

Disaster relief organizations went immediately to provide food, medicine, clean water and shelter. Aid struggled and is still struggling to reach victims as wires, trees and debris cut off access to areas of Typhoon-ravaged city. Almost all of the relief supplies reaching the Leyte province do not include light. Renewable Energy Enterprise Foundation’s (REEF) president recently arrived from the Philippines. Reports from Manila say that the city of 350,000 will not have electricity for at least another 3 months. Dark night is yet another challenge what devastated survivors are facing.

REEF is attempting to dispatch solar lanterns to relief organizations. The waterproof solar lanterns need ~6 hours of sunlight to provide 8-10 hours of light. REEF is an outreach partner in Sailing Regatta – 14th Philippine Hobie Challenge. In 2014 the outreach of Hobie Challenge  will focus on west of Tacloban in the direct path of Yolanda (Haiyan).  REEF will continue to deploy clean technology for social welfare.

Together REEF and you can light up a family.

By Manimala Kumar

REEFer’s diary of Philippines trip : Part 3

DSC_3201DSC_3200We surveyed many fishermen families. If the families resided near to the town, entire neighborhood was very congested. If the families were far away from the town then the landscape was sparse houses spread over large open space. In a household we saw the head of the family had respiratory disease and was paralyzed. We informed them about PhilHealth and free treatments at Candelaria hospital. The family cooked in open pit fire in the same room. This family got a Prakti stove from REEF and we did not see them using the stove. The owners kept the stove nicely packed. A stove surface burner was missing and hence the stove was lying unused. We had to take care of getting them a burner.

DSC_3198 DSC_3199One of the fishermen’s household is particularly noteworthy.  Two brothers with their families lived jointly. Besides fighting constant poverty they managed to keep a hobby. They had a drum and an old guitar. During Christmas they played carol on the street and raised fund for local church. Isn’t it amazing that a person in need is indeed donating to the more unfortunates? At our request, they got their musical instruments out and sang a Christmas carol in Tagalog.

In the last but one house in our list lived an old woman aged 80+ who still carried heavy loads of woods for miles. She had an adult son aged 50+ and an infant grandson. The son was unemployed and did not do anything for living. His wife ran away. The family relied on a meager Government aid what the old woman received.

The last house we visited was of an old man who was living with his wife and two college going daughters. The daughters stood against all odds, aspired to be teachers. The family made bamboo tables & chairs in front of the shaky house. I couldn’t stop thinking about Western influence to Philippines.  An old empty bottle of rum was used as plant vase – seaside pastoral ambience. Standing and talking there I sensed the ocean breeze, then bade goodbye to the family in the light of setting sun.

We took a halt at Candelaria district hospital situated over a small hillock. Ocean wind hits the hospital straight. We were accompanied by associates of an energy company in the day’s trip and wanted to explore feasibility of installing a wind turbine on that plot. Hospital can save on electricity bill and build a power backup via renewable energy sources. Grace is a nurse at this hospital and a key figure in promoting PhilHealth insurance awareness among poor through REEF.

In the evening we came back to the pavilion Candelaria. Dodo boarded the local auto rickshaw (a motor bike is attached to a 2 or 4 wheeled vehicle and it’s a popular means of transportation) and went to a beach during the day. We visited the local open market, picked flowers for his Lola there (Grandmother in Tagalog) and afterwards packed for the return trip. Next morning we said ‘Salamat’ (aka Thanks in Tagalog) to Ralph and family, then started for Manila.  We grabbed a ‘halo halo’ on our way.  Vast greenery, ocean side roads and bucolic landscape accompanied us in the journey from countryside to Manila. It took us more than an hour to cross Manila city from one side to other in a busy weekday. Running we barely caught the flight. Though left behind – underprivileged communities, their lifestyle, solar lantern hanging from a tree facing the direct sunshine, a new culture and a distinct developing country – stood in my mind’s frame.

By Manimala Kumar

REEFer’s diary of Philippines trip : Part 2

At night we reviewed the list of distressed households at which REEF distributed either solar lantern or environment friendly cook stove a year ago (2012).  REEF has started its field operation in villages surrounding Candelaria. The goal of my trip for REEF is to visit the households, survey the residents, inspect the conditions of the distributed products, and measure the impact since REEF has provided aid.  We also reviewed survey questionnaire – a customized form of Grameen (aka village in Bengali) Foundation’s survey form – that makes sense for REEF and to be used to interview people.  We sat with a local barangay senior who could help plotting the addresses and sketch an itinery as the remote addresses are not available in Google map. Barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines.

Following days we started day long visits to indigent families. If the families had school age children and they were able to send the children to school (many of these people are not in a position to do so), we could not greet those children as we were visiting during daytime. For same reason we would also not be able to meet father or male household head or primary bread earner. Exceptions were seasonal workers. In most households female head was housewife.

The houses had a pattern – hard soiled floor, combination of bricks/soil/bamboo/plywood for wall, straw or asbestos or light corrugated material or blend of all these materials for roof.  Few slightly well-off households had cement or concrete floor and/or wall. None of the houses had toilets. Some of the houses had a small covered area used as bathrooms. Fishermen who lived next to the sea regularly threw solid body waste to the water. Most homes had one big room partitioned to two dens. Open pit cooking took place at one corner of the room. House conditions ranged from extremely shabby to moderate. I wondered how many of these houses would stand the next tropical storm. Many of the home owners could not afford, hence did not have electricity; I bet few stole electricity. The families likely could not afford full meal in a day and liquor consumption in empty stomach was commonplace. Education level of household heads varied from non-graduated primary to high school graduates. Median income of the households was below $10/month.

Walking on the unpaved dusty road we reached the first household where a young couple lived with 2 kids, father did agricultural work to earn livelihood. The mother was not expecting us, greeted us with a smile. We spoke with her and filled the survey form. Always straight questions would not result into assertive answers; observation, framing question differently and digging deeper would. Imagine a labor who does not have a steady income tracking basic accounting such as household income, duration of seasonal work, work hours, amount spent in electricity, time spent in collecting woods etc. She answered in mixed Tagalog and English.  She was able spell her name, to check whether I inscribed correct; if I was wrong she wrote herself. I expected to observer extreme necessitousness.  But at this level of society, I was astounded by the quality of basic primary education in the nation. Clearly this is a footprint of 450 years of Spanish and American colonies in Philippines. During Feb’13 inter island Sailing Regatta Hobie Challenge, REEF has distributed 400 solar lanterns to schools to be given to children in need. It was pleasant to see that one of the school kids in the household has received the lantern (d.light s2) from the school. The solar lanterns were set outside facing the sun. D.light s20 enlightened the evening and nights for ~10 hours daily while the mother cooked and children studied. After thanking her for her time we moved on.

Next household in the list was next door, a blind old woman stayed alone. She was away. So we left this Purok 1 (Philippines term for ward, identified via unique numbering scheme or distinct phrase) and headed to next Purok.  The next house was of a single woman who had a cashew tree. In dry season (typically March to October) the cashew trees bear fruits without fail. She went to sell cashews in the market. We told her neighbor that we would come back next day.  I could not stop appreciating her taste. She had a cheap flowery curtain to separate her bedroom from kitchen and rest of the open area, a small plant what she decorated with empty egg shells.  No garbage was piled up or thrown in the vicinity. The scanty shelter appeared to be clean and bore a look of a cottage.  In spite of poverty, she depicted a taste.

We knocked at the door of the next family. The grandmother gave birth to ~11 children. Grandfather was aged and had hard time quantifying the number of children and recalling the name of the children. Grandparents are now financially dependent on their children. DSC_3189 DSC_3191 DSC_3195This is the only family who did not take care of the solar lantern, the lantern was dropped over cooking stove and the solar panel was melted. We took the lantern back to send for possible repair.

We went to snatch a quick lunch from a store run by a middle aged woman. The woman runs a small shop adjacent to her house where she raises foster children. Her cousin sister was abandoned by her husband. With many kids, no shelter and no income the cousin landed in water. The woman was kind enough to accommodate the cousin at her home while the cousin helped her with household work. We pleasantly found that the cousin found next partner and would move with him with all her kids soon. She warmly welcomed us with homemade hot rice, fried chicken, pork curry, ‘halo halo’ (a traditional Philippine dessert) and home grown bananas.

BY Manimala Kumar

REEFer’s diary of Philippines trip : Part 1

March, 2013: I just landed at Manila airport. The beauty pigeon’s airport itself did not seem glamorous to me.  After passing the immigration counter, we found ourselves standing outside the airport in the capital city of Philippines surrounded by friendly taxi drivers and literally felt the warmth (an early spring day in Philippines is so hot that a fish can be fried without oven).

The cab in Manila made its zigzag way through the road amidst cars, buses, rickshaws and people coming from all direction leading to mini traffic jam in each lane, provided there was a notion of lane. Dodo, my toddler, although tired from past ~ 24 hours journey from USA to Manila, sat straight and exclaimed “crazy, damn crazy”!  I watched the city’s skyline, roadside brick buildings breathing close to each other. Ah, what a homely feeling! Nothing is different from what I have seen in India.

Our cab passed the Roxas Boulevard running along scenic Manila Bay. Roxas was formerly known as Dewey Boulevard named after the American Admiral under whose command the Spanish navy was defeated in the Battle of Manila Bay more than a century ago. It derives present name in the honor of President Manuel Roxas, the fifth president of Philippines. Accustomed to frequent street renaming in Calcutta, I kept feeling at home.

Next, check into the hotel and get ready for the day. Shortly I got a call from REEF.  And I remembered the unforgettable forgetting. Back in January there was a change in initial plan; we were supposed to be picked up directly from airport and to head towards the province of Zambales. The fact complete slipped of mind while juggling with office priorities.  Ralph (REEF’s founder) and Grace (REEF’s Philippines Operations head) were about to report to police that a family went missing in Philippines! We packed and were on the way to Candelaria, Zambales.

Manila to Candelaria of the province of Zambales is ~4 hours drive. After crossing the city of Manila landscape is tree lined, sometimes curvy mountain road ragged over the sea.  We stopped at Subic city in the evening. It was one of the largest US military facilities outside of mainland USA during American colonial period in Philippines.  MV Logos Hope, the largest among the floating libraries anchored in Subic Bay same time of last year to bring knowledge, help and hope to local folks, especially children. We walked around and had dinner. Filipino people consume k, vegetables and herbs.  Curries are neither spicy nor oily. Tropical country offers variety of fruits. A green mango shake complemented our dinner.

It was night when we arrived at the town of Candelaria.  Provincials believe that the name means a place of many candles as once the place used to have many candles. Jet lagged, we soon felt asleep.

Next morning I would wake up in a two storied wooden house to discover a splendid architecture. Philippine islands have two seasons – dry and wet. To stay cool during prolonged warm months the rustic house has wall to wall ventilation, big windows, large balconies shaded to shelter from the rain and sun. Near the windows the locals put a small coffee table and a pair of chairs – ‘Merienda’ (late morning/afternoon snacks) place. People here go to bed late and start day late. They grab four meals in a day breakfast, late morning snacks, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. After breakfast we went to a fishermen’s neighborhood, boarded a raw yacht and toured the Patipur island, which welcomed us with little bamboo huts, shades and lukewarm water of South China Sea.

By Manimala KumarDSC_3148 DSC_3182

We have a new year dream

Happy New Year 2013 REEF bade goodbye to 2012. We secured the fund, suppliers, and stakeholders and started the field installation of solar panels to poor households as part of Family first Program in last year. We look forward to see the first family first installation go-live in this year, to get engineering in action to alleviate poverty.

REEF has a dream for 2013. In order to support the Family First, Green Hospital & LEADS (education) program, we need a steady business model beyond reliance on Government and international policy. REEF will distribute solar lantern and environment friendly cooking stove to partners. The profit earned from distributorship will feed into our main cause.

We already have set our feet to the business plan. Y2013 will be the year of implementation, a year for new alliance, a tale of success stories of new endeavors.

Welcome 2013!

BY Manimala Kumar

Lighten up the poor, have a green treat – Merry Christmas!

The festive season has arrived. Houses are lit up. Gifts are piled up. Smell of goodies is in the air.

In contrast, there is no rosy picture for the unfortunates in a third world country. Christmas Eve is just like another day. The elderly works hard and can’t stop worrying about the economic condition of the household. The mother collects woods & cow dung to use as a cooking fuel and prepares a scanty meal for the family. For the children awaits a dark night.

REEFers aim to equip the poor families with high-efficiency, low-smoke cooking stoves that address environmental, economic and health threats. REEF distributes solar lantern to the households. REEF is also working to install solar panel in a multi family set up. Solar power in poor households does not only illuminate but also enlightens the future of the children who have to work during the day and will otherwise loose opportunity to study in the evening. Find more about us @http://www.alleviatepovertynow.org/.

Happy Holidays!

BY Manimala Kumar

The remote, the rural & the Family First Program

Supply & infrastructure of electricity vary significantly in developed versus developing country.  In western world it’s not uncommon to find out a fully electrified nation serviced through smart grid electricity.

Conversely in developing countries even in metros and sub-urban prolonged load shedding is a cliche in daily life. It remains a dream to connect remote & rural areas to conventional electric power supply. An example is Zambales province in Philippines, just within 100 miles of Manila, contains houses outside the reach of grid electricity. Tropical storm, typhoon and flood put power supply in jeopardy. The vast terrains of mountains & ragged coastal lines bring additional accessibility problems.

REEF tries to find out cost effective and sustainable ways relying on alternative energy source to address the challenge.  The Family First Program is the first step to install photo-voltaic solar panel to meet the energy need of the rural households.

By Manimala Kumar

The Green Hospital

The Green HospitalRenewable energy’s contribution to the environment is profound. THE GREEN Hospital Program has the potential to offset coal produced electricity, AND reduce green house gases created by power plants. Gases like sulfuric nitrous acid, when combined with water, produce acid rain, and can seriously hinder rice and other crop production as well as defoliate rain forest cover. Frequently when RE projects are up for consideration another barometer considered is an equivalent of acres of trees planted. The acreage of trees planted is based on the size of the solar PV system. These are GREEN hospital project environmental benefits.See us on http://www.alleviatepovertynow.org/green-hospital.html

By Patrick Kagema  – Courtesy REEF Website