One million schoolkids around the world build and light solar lamps

Thousands of students lit solar lamps at once in New Delhi on Wednesday, in an attempt to create a world record.
In 2010, a family sending a child to school in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district would get a solar lamp from Chetan Solanki. The IIT-Bombay professor’s innovative way to promote both education and solar power use soon turned into a self-help initiative where students and their parents started making solar lamps. Now, 6.5 million children across the world have been trained in making a solar lamp.

On Wednesday, students attempted to make a Guinness World Record, with 1 million of them building and lighting up solar lamps all at once around the world. Solanki, a 44-year-old ardent Gandhian, went around the world to propagate his initiative. The programme has now been picked up by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and covered under the Centre’s skill development schemes.

To mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Ministry of Power decided to give a platform to this programme, for which more than 10,000 students from schools across the city gathered at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi.

The stadium, overlooking the now-defunct Indraprastha thermal power project, painted a hopeful picture of energy transition in India.

The students were trained under an IIT-Bombay initiative, spearheaded by professor Chetan Solanki
Each student carried with them the equipment to build a solar lamp — LED lights, solar panels, wires and bright yellow light holders. One million students from 3,500 locations in India and 60 other countries did the same.

In the three hours before Power Minister R K Singh arrived at the event in New Delhi, the teenagers soldered the wires accurately and beamed with joy as the LED bulbs lit up when turned towards the Sun. Most of the teenagers giggled when asked what they know of climate change. On being nudged by teachers, some told the textbook definition. A girl from a school in Naraina went on to cite Greta Thunberg, a teenage Swedish environment activist who has been in the news for drawing the world’s attention to climate change, to explain why solar power is the future.

These students have been trained under the Solar Urja through Localization for Sustainability (SoULS) initiative of the IIT-Bombay, spearheaded by Solanki. The programme identifies areas where solar off-grid equipment such as lamps could be made by people. The programme’s focus is school-going children and unemployed youth.

Solanki told Business Standard they have now started online courses to scale up this project to the global level. “I visited 50 countries to sensitise the young generation who will be bearing the maximum burden of climate change. Their sensitisation and participation as solar ambassadors in climate mitigation efforts are important,” he said.

Solanki in March-April went to 50 countries including the headquarters of leading global companies such as Facebook and upcoming economies in the African continent.

Inspired by Gandhi and also Anna Hazare later in his life, Solanki has based the programme on Gandhian principles — not mass production but production by masses is required. Though, the lamps now being disbursed under this programme are packaged with the photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Solanki has started another scheme in collaboration with the State Rural Livelihoods Mission to train self-help groups, especially women. The scheme is expected to generate an employment of 5,600,000 man-days for 18-20 months and 700 solar entrepreneurs in rural areas.

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