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Behind the scenes: Stories from the field

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by Evonne Liew, marketing and communications officer, Global Partnerships

Global Partnerships' marketing and communications team recently traveled to Central America to capture interviews, photos and videos. This is the first of several "behind the scenes" stories from the trip. In this post, the team visits an off-grid community to interview a client whose life has been improved through obtaining access to solar lights.

Don Roberto, our driver, stomps down on the accelerator but our car continues to roll downhill. We've lost traction on the steep road to El Aguacate, a remote village perched on top of a mountain in Boaco, Nicaragua. We need to get there to interview Maritza, a client of Global Partnerships' partner, MiCrédito. I begin to worry that we won't make it.

Maritza, 62, is a client of GP partner MiCrédito. She and her family have benefited from MiCrédito's move to incorporate solar technologies into the products and services they offer clients.

Thankfully, Don Roberto manages to get the car going again. It whines the whole way up, filling the interior with burnt rubber fumes. When we arrive, Maritza welcomes us to her modest home, which consists of two main wooden buildings with dirt floors. We learn that the community has no running water, electricity or a sewage system. But through Global Partnerships' partner MiCrédito, Maritza and her family now have access to solar lights, fulfilling a crucial basic need for her family.

Despite living in difficult conditions, Maritza, 62, is extremely upbeat. Without hesitation, she latches on to my wrist and pulls me around, proudly introducing me to family members. I learn that Maritza has been married to her husband Diego for 44 years. Together, they have 13 children, 27 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The men work on the family farm, which is a two-hour walk down the road.

They cultivate beans, corn and other crops on 40 manzanas of land (approximately 138 acres). They also own about 60 cattle. While this may sound like a lot of resources, they have an enormous family to provide for.

The view from behind Maritza's home over a stunning valley in Nicaragua's Boaco Department.

After the introductions, our team splits up to film and photograph what daily life looks like for Maritza and her family. At one point, Maritza takes me to see the stunning view behind her home: a sea of green hills in every direction. It's here that I meet some of her neighbors. I explain that we're capturing the story of Maritza and her family's use of solar lights. Then I ask if they use solar lights too. One neighbor says he does. Another says she would like a solar light but thinks they are too expensive. She and her family still use candiles—modified tin cans filled with kerosene. Candiles emit dim light and toxic fumes. They are also expensive; the neighbor explains that she spends about 400 córdobas (about 14 USD) per month on kerosene. She's unaware that the small solar lights offered through our partner MiCrédito cost about 1,500 córdobas (about 55 USD) each. Four months of kerosene costs could pay for a solar light with a lifespan of five years. That is five years of bright, smoke-free light that enables families to be productive at night and save hundreds of dollars in kerosene costs.

Maritza tells me that about one year ago, she took out a loan from MiCrédito to purchase three Sun King Pro solar lights (manufactured by GP partner Greenlight Planet). Fully charged, they provide between six and 30 hours of light, depending on which of three brightness settings is used. The lights can also charge cellphones, enabling Maritza and her family to save money on cellphone charging costs too.

To film the solar lights in action, we stay until after dark. Soon after 6:00 p.m., the sun sets and it quickly becomes pitch black. It's easy to understand why Maritza and her family used to go to bed shortly after sunset. The crew and I turn on our headlamps, while Maritza proudly uses one of her three Sun King Pros to light her kitchen to cook dinner for the family.

Maritza cooks dinner for her family after dark using one of her Sun King Pro solar lights.

After dinner, one of Maritza's daughters shows us how the Sun King Pro provides ample illumination for her to sew at night. While she works, she explains that she makes all kinds of designs—from table cloths to clothes—whatever her customers ask for. Her sewing has brought in vital additional income for the family.

Maritza's daughter demonstrating how her mother's solar lights help her continue working after dark.

Some of the children show us how they use the Sun King Pro to do their homework. It used to be difficult to study because the wind would blow out the candiles. Now, sometimes even the neighbors' kids come over to Maritza's house to study.

Some of Maritza's younger family members studying by the light of a solar lamp.

At one point I walk to the car to get something and place my hand on a rock wall to find my way. Someone tells me to stop doing that. They tell me that several weeks ago a man was bitten by a poisonous snake after doing the exact same thing. I retract my hand immediately and think about the toilet that I used earlier—an open-air rock field behind Maritza's home. I imagine using it in the dark with snakes slithering around and gain an even greater appreciation for the solar lights.

After we finish our visit, I reflect on the day during the drive back to our hotel. It's clear that a solar light by itself is not going to lift Maritza and her family out of poverty. But they now have opportunities to work and study at night if they choose to, and they save money. Additionally, Maritza and her family can stay up until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. chatting with one another. After all, spending quality time together after the work day is over is important too.

By investing in social enterprises like MiCrédito, Global Partnerships expands opportunity for millions of people who deserve the opportunity to succeed. Maritza's story is just one of hundreds we have heard over the past two decades. Stories like hers keep us inspired to continue finding market-based ways of delivering opportunity to those who need it most.

To hear more stories and to see our video interview with Maritza, please subscribe to our blog and come to our luncheon in Seattle on October 29th. All photos © Global Partnerships.

Blog Tags: Central America   field visit   Green Technology   impact   impact in action   Latin America   Nicaragua   off-grid   solar energy   solar light   solar lights   solar technology   

Lack of awareness about the benefits of solar technologies and how affordable they can be is one of the barriers to adoption in Latin America. GP's partnership with MiCrédito has helped them hire a dedicated solar coordinator to educate clients, as well as import small solar solutions and make them affordable for families like Maritza's. Photo © Global Partnerships.
Lack of awareness about the benefits of solar technologies and how affordable they can be is one of the barriers to adoption in Latin America. GP's partnership with MiCrédito has helped them hire a dedicated solar coordinator to educate clients, as well as import small solar solutions and make them affordable for families like Maritza's. Photo © Global Partnerships.

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