Thursday, July 31, 2014

Buddhism in Cambodia

Hi Guys! Today, I am going to talk about the Buddhism in Cambodia. This is because every day I commuted to work, I saw many monks in the streets. I asked lots of questions about Cambodians’ religion.  About 95% of Cambodian population is a Buddhist.  Did you know that there are different kinds of Buddhism?  The Buddhism prevalent among Cambodians is “Hinayana Buddhism”.

You can notice this fact easily, based on the picture of monks. Their costumes represent Hinayana Buddhism. Because I am Korean and my family believes in this religion, I think I am very familiar with this religion, Buddhism. However, how monks are dressed is considerably different each other, so that’s why I could figure out the Buddhism in Cambodia is different with that in Korea. According to my search, the origin of Buddhism was one, but as time went by, the Buddhism was divided into several parts. One of them is Hinayana Buddhism.

Buddhism is a set of system for achieving enlightenment. Cambodian Buddhism emphasizes a belief in reincarnation, and one's position in life is believed to arise from actions in his or her past life. Respect for Cambodian royalty can be in general rooted in this belief. King's high station in life can be interpreted as the result of good deeds in previous lives.

I went to a small temple near my housing. Many buildings and towers were decorated in the style of Buddhism. The small towers in the second and third pictures are for when monks pray every morning. If you visit Cambodia, it is so so so easy to find monks and temples wherever you go. I think Cambodian's live is equal to a life as a Buddhist. If a monk visits a housing in the morning, any Cambodians are very willing and happy to give some foods or money to the monk. They think this is a way of being responsible as a Buddhist. Then, the monk recites the Buddhist scriptures for a while for the person who presents an offering to Buddha. I wanted to take a picture of this scene, but I couldn't because I could interrupt them.   

Even though how monks are dressed or the architectural styles between “Hinayana Buddhism” and “Mahayana Buddhism” is very different, people’s minds toward believing Buddha is same in that they want to be happy and they perceive lifedeath and rebirth as a continuous cycle. I think Buddhism is the most motives for Cambodians to survive from exterior attacks in their history. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lights. Camera. Action?

by Jodi-Ann Burey

Last Saturday, I woke up, ate breakfast, scrubbed my clothes and hung them on the line. But this wasn’t just a normal Saturday morning in Balaka. This particular Saturday was my live TV debut! My workmate’s wife, who is a local TV host and editor, invited me to be on a program at Luntha TV. I had no prep and had no idea why I was asked to be on the show besides the fact that I don’t speak Chichewa and the station had been looking for a way to incorporate more English into the lunch hour program.

Luntha TV Entrance

I arrived at the station about 30 minutes before show time. Everyone seemed relaxed. No one seemed worried that the clock was ticking and their guest had no clue what was to happen next.

The producer, Kisswell, eventually introduced himself to me. When I didn’t understand his name, he started blowing kisses in the air saying, “Kisswell. Muah. Muah. Kisswell. I kiss well.” Harmless, of course, even funny now that I look back on it, but in the moment the feminist and New Yorker in me starting rising in my gut like a hot flame. Luckily for both of us, my anxiety about being on the show spared him my wrath. Five minutes of prep and he left me in the hallway to wait for my segment.

5 minutes.

15 minutes.

25 minutes go by.

Kisswell comes out of the studio and sits next to me. He informs me that they’ve experienced a technical glitch after the first segment and the IT guy is out of the office. I was relieved and disappointed at the same time. My debut had been cancelled.

Fast forward to today…

Despite the fact that it is NOT the rainy season, it’s been raining here all week. I tell people it’s because Balaka is crying since I’m leaving the district for good on Friday. It’s gloomy and rainy and certainly not the right conditions to motivate me to dress up and look pretty in the morning. I throw on some plain Jane clothes, no make-up and prance out of the lodge with my hair looking as it did when I got out of bed. I get to work, set up my computer and start typing away. My workmate enters the office to break the news that his wife has me scheduled for a live interview with her in 3 hours. The debut is back on!

Trying to do SOMETHING in the mirror.

Getting ready for TV!
Needless to say, I am not prepared. But I know her and feel more comfortable chatting with her on live TV than with some guy named Kisswell. We’re friends. I’ve eaten at her house. Her kids fall asleep in my arms! I will even be going to a wedding with her this weekend!

Moments before our interview, she asked me to talk about the importance of young girls delaying marriage and learning more about the goals that they want out of life. This is a heavy message to give and I would have preferred more prep time to develop a responsible framing strategy. I felt apprehensive to get on TV and wag my First World fingers at young Malawian girls about not getting married and having babies too soon.

I decided to focus on the benefits of being in school. Each additional year a girl spends in school helps to improve her health outcomes and the health decisions that she makes for her family. Each additional year a girl spends in school she discovers more about herself, can decide her own goals and learn more ways to achieve them. I told them that who I thought I was before I came back to school is completely different from the person I am today.

I stopped and waited for the host to translate my message into Chichewa. She turned back to me and asked about my experiences in Malawi.

I spoke about my hike up Mt. Mulanje last weekend and admitted that although I am not a hiker, I wanted to do something that would challenge me. I related it back to setting a goals and working hard to achieve something that many may not expect.

I stopped and waited for the host to translate my message into Chichewa.

She asked if I had anything else to add.

I added that I understood the value and importance of having a good role model, but these girls don’t need to wait for a role model to do something different. They should feel confident to be their own role models, set goals for themselves and pursue their dreams, because there are other girls watching what they do.

I stopped and waited for the host to translate my message into Chichewa.

She thanked me. The TV monitor faded to black. My segment was done.

Saturday’s glitch was supposed to happen, I think. Because of it, my friend and I were able to have a girl power hour (okay, 10 minutes). It was incredible.

Balaka is so tiny, I’m sure a lot of people in the district will see the program. I don’t know if what I said will have an impact on anyone. I hope it will. But even if it doesn’t, I did walk away feeling more confident about my ability to encourage others to pursue their dreams. After all, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing now?

Me and Mphatso at the end of our segment!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reaching other Organizations for Improving Cambodians’ lives

Hello Guys!  I am Soomin! Today, I want to talk about one of my assignments in Cambodia, which is to get useful responses from other organizations applying the C-BED training tool.

First of all, I want to show the building where I worked.

Can you see the yellow buildings in this picture?  These buildings are called ‘Phnom Penh Center’ located in the center of Phnom Penh.  In these buildings, there are a variety of offices for different organizations. The ILO uses one of the buildings.

During my internship, I had tried to reach other organizations, such as governmental organizations, NGOs, and private sector organizations, to get their responses after their experience with C-BED.

To remind you of the C-BED, there is a brief summary for you.
CBED is an ILO training tool which establishes the capacity of current or aspiring entrepreneurs to start or improve their businesses without requiring external trainers or facilitators. CBED’s simple design encourages community facilitators to guide training sessions by providing instructions for participant-driven individual and group activities. Consequently implementation of CBED is very low cost and has great utility in poor or vulnerable communities that would traditionally be inaccessible due to social or geographical isolation.

The reason why I tried to contact other organizations is that the ILO had piloted the C-BED training package until the beginning of this year. We need feedback to enhance the C-BED training tool and make it more solid than before.

The survey period was from 03 July 2014 to 17 July 2014. The primary objective of the survey is to map the status of C-BED program implementation in Cambodia, by measuring the overall satisfaction with C-BED, which is designed to inform us how to enhance a broader framework to monitor, manage, and report on the impact of C-BED.

Twenty five organizations were asked ten questions through either accessing a link of Survey Monkey website or filling out a Micro Word file. The survey questions are about their previous involvement with C-BED in terms of how they participated, how many times, what kind of challenges they had, and the effectiveness of C-BED.

A partial list of partner organizations include ‘Centre d'Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien’, ‘Khana’, Pour un Sourire d'Enfant Institute, etc.

I called each of the respondents to get more detailed information and I met some of them in person. J  Their feedback was very useful that I could do my assessment and give my recommendation to supplement the current C-BED training tool, and to find out the current status of C-BED in Cambodia.

I hope to share this with U of M students soon!!

Monday, July 28, 2014

First Safari!

I was fortunate enough to be able to take my first safari while here in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth National Park, located in the southwest corner of the country, near the border with the DRC.  Home to four of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffalo), QENP was a great experience, and we were fortunate enough to see lions, elephants, hippos, and buffalo, along with plenty of Ugandan Kob, tons of birdlife, chimpanzees, and baboons.

Despite singing the Buffalo Bills fight song, the water buffalo remain unimpressed.

Waking up before sunrise, we piled into an old safari van, popped the roof, and hit the road looking for wildlife. Although I never had really considered going on a safari before, the first time we saw a herd of elephants line up to drink from the Kazinga Channel, I couldn't help but feel awed by the majesty of these animals. I was able to take a boat ride along the channel, which allowed for some great vantage points to see tons of wildlife take advantage of the cooling lake from the hot Ugandan sun.

We also got to see some coffee growing in action, and I met some local children who not only showed me when coffee is ready to be picked, but also loved to have their photos taken. No matter where in the world they are, it seems that all children love to have their pictures taken and then see them - as someone who hates having their picture taken, I was more than happy to oblige them!

Paul (in the striped shirt) showing off a ripe coffee bean.

 Overall, it was a wonderful trip, and I feel so lucky that I was able to take my first safari this summer - it certainly made some great memories and even better photos!
Straight out of the Lion King!

Until next time!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rain, rain, go away!

So, this week, I have seen the most sustained rainfall since arriving in Ghana. I am not speaking of deluge-worthy numbers, but it has been quite significant, raining every day, with deposits of a couple inches per occasion. I thoroughly enjoy the magnetism that is the thunderstorm: the crack of illuminating lightning complemented by victorious rolls of thunder is virtually unmatched in raw power and utter serenity. My mind feels most at ease amidst this beautiful chaos. I would liken it to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, with its masterful crescendos. As you can tell, I LOVE thunderstorms. However, my point in mentioning this thunderstorm has been the apparent lack of either one of these rapturous components. Their absence has been one of the sore spots of Ghanaian downpours.

The real issue with downpours here though, a more inclusive problem, is the public health risk that the downpours present. The issue manifests itself in the guise of a rudimentary sewage system comprised of roadside gutters. What‘s interesting is that Accra is comprised of a mixture of inhabitants coexisting in neighborhoods that are one part developed, one part slum (think Brazilian favelas), and one part transitioning. Because of the oft dominant slum areas, the gutters serve as the primary end disposal mechanism for household wastes, including, but not limited to regular wastewater, rubbish and sewage. One can imagine what noxious emanations crawl out and waft into the air, assaulting the nostrils of the passerbys. The stench is particularly unbearable on the sunniest days as the mixture is allowed to bake in the Ghanaian heat. However, my concern is the rainy days when the gutters are filled beyond capacity and overflow onto the streets and adjoining walkways. With this happening, the ability to successfully navigate the terrain is hampered and pedestrians must cross through it, sometimes only outfitted with sandals. This is where my public health senses kick in, channeling my inner Spider Man upon realizing there is the opportunity for cholera to appear. It’s probably of note that there is a significant cholera incidence at this time, interestingly only being outshone by the Ebola outbreak. 
Gutter outside the office on a regular day.

Being a resident for the last couple months, this has actually given me a long term interest in being able to aid in the restructuring of the sewage system at some point later down the road. I have a friend out here who blindly stepped in one of these gutters one evening and his immediate reaction to the situation was that he, "wanted to cut his leg off," because he didn't know what combination of elements was inside that wastewater. Now, imagine having to walk through this mess at the height of rainy season. Again, Spidey senses are tingling at the thought. This issue is one that needs addressing, but the government, in all of its incompetence, has allowed it to take a backseat to a myriad of other issues. These other issues are definitely important, but this may be just as significant as most. Hopefully, as the years progress and I can make a return journey to Ghana- with the best of intentions- the government would have instituted some level of infrastructural change  worthy of keeping our legs.
Until next time!

Work Progress with CEVI and Vision Fund

I have shared how I am doing and traveling in Tagbilaran city, Philippines, for already two months. However, I have not talked in detail how my working task as tenure is progressing here.  In short, my goal is to plan and conduct an impact assessment on recovery project, or Bangon loan project, of which the objective is to help victims recover from typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda in Tagalog.  First, I conducted a log-frame as a management tool used for designing, monitoring and evaluating the projects. Then, I planned out a project timeline for activities to achieve the project’s goal which are 1) validating CEVI’s data collected in the course of business (i.e. credit committee recommendation, Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI), Child Well-Being Outcomes (CWBO) and Assistance Received data) 2) Collect and monitor Interim and Final credit committee recommendation, PPI, CWBO and Exit survey 3) Conduct Impact assessment (survey questionnaires) 4) Conduct Focus Group Discussions (FGD) for parents and children and 5) Conduct a case study.  The clients/respondents for this evaluation are composed of those in five typhoon-affected branches: Sara and Balasan in Iloilo Island; Ormoc, Dulag and BayBay in Leyte Island.
Cluster meeting in Sara

We are ready!
Local small boat

Until now, I have validated most of the existing data to provide some suggestion and improvement for future evaluation, including planned out the appropriate time-schedule in order to conduct an interim monitoring. Therefore, the most important task that I am currently doing is to conduct a pilot test on a survey questionnaires and FGD which I, and my working partner, Tessa, have constructed. We will do a pilot test during cluster bi-weekly meetings.  The cluster bi-weekly meeting is when clients in each village gather to pay interest for their loan and for Bangon loan; clients must pay interest twice/month.

Last week we went to Iloilo Island to conduct a first pilot test. I must say the way to go to Iloilo Island is quite exhausting. We must take a Ferry to Cebu Island first and then take a flight to Iloilo city, taking 3-hours bus to Sara and another hour on bus to Balasan. That is nothing compared to what I would tell next!

This week, Typhoon Rammasun (Glenda) hit the Philippines. Fortunately, Iloilo Island has been affected only by a heavy rainstorm. The first day the typhoon hit the island, unavoidably, we had to be off work for that day.  However, the next day when the storm was less severe, we rode a small boat to visit a cluster meeting on several islands around the mainland. After leaving the shore for about ¼ of the way, the sailor said that we must go back since the wave is too strong and we have too many people in the boat!  Honestly, that moment I was shocked and just prayed to God.  After island-hopping for two days in Sara and Balasan, we finally completed the schedule we planned.  What I really appreciated is that when we conducted a survey questionnaire and FGD, all clients were willing to participate. Some of them were really excited to talk to me since there are not many foreigners visiting these areas. I really cherish every smile I received from them.  I have tried to conduct FGD myself, even though I still relied on a local staff for translation, it was very fun trying talking with them. Next week, I and Tessa will travel to Leyte Island to conduct second pilot test. I am looking forward to more knowledge and exciting experience to come.

Last but not least, I have cooked some Filipino local food which are Chicken Adobo and Corned beef with shredded cabbage. I am not a good cook, but I hope it looks good enough to try!

Chicken Adobo
Corned Beef with Shredded Cabbage

Few local tips to avoid heat wave exposure and Water problem!

Travel to the field and tips to avoid heat wave exposure:

My rural experience in India was concentrated in different villages of Yavatmal district in Maharashtra. Yavatmal is located at a distance of 700 kms from Mumbai.  This area is famous for 3 different reasons a). cotton cultivation, b). extreme dry heat region of India (Maximum temperature goes up to 120 0F)  and c). severe water problem.

I spent six weeks in this region when temperature was ranging between 1100F and 1200F.  It was a challenge as well as good learning experience to deal extreme dry heat. Some of the tips to survive in high temperature zone are a). drink water at regular interval (prefer bottled/mineral water), b). avoid sun light during peak hrs. If it is essential to come out in extreme sunlight, use cotton towel on head to avoid heat wave exposure. c). keep essential medicines such as electrolytes, paracetamol (fever) and  medicine for headache, and d). use light during night to roam in village areas (I saved myself from deadly scorpion couple of times. Fig-2 shows my second encounter with deadly scorpion of the region).
Fig-1: My home for six weeks in the field
Fig-2: My second encounter with a deadly scorpion
Fig-3: My breakfast and tea in the field
During my field visit, I met wonderful people of NGO partner. They  were very helpful and provided good support while staying in the field. I wouldn't have been able to work in such extreme conditions without NGO and organization's support. 
Fig-4: My team during field visit (2nd from left is head of NGO) 

Water problem in the region:

My work was concentrated around Palaskund village of district Yavatmal. This village has ~100 families. Sources of income for this village are daily wage, farming or both. It has four water sources.  Ironically, not a single water source is available throughout the year. The nearest water source is at a distance of ~200 m and farthest water source is at a distance of ~3 Km.   Fig-5 shows most common water source. Fig 6 shows dried well. People are collecting water.  Fig 7 shows path to common water source during summer season.  

Fig-5: Common water source of palaskund village
This village has highest number of waterwheel user. A clear navigable path through stony cotton field in fig-7 is an impact of waterwheel.  
Fig-6a: Dried well of village palaskund
Palaskund was my first village in Yavatmal. I visited three times to this village. When I reached to this village for first time, It was noon. Temperature was ~114 oF. I walked straight to well which was current water source. I can roughly say that the distance will be around ~1.5km from village. I started feeling headache as I walked down to well in such extreme temperature. It gave me a thought that how are villagers managing water collection from this water source. Further, I was shocked when I reached at water source. There were hardly 10-20 li water left in the well. However, more then 5 families were trying to take some portion of water. It is clearly depicted in figure-6. Water in the well comes from another village which is around 5 km from Palaskund. As a result only limited water is provided to palaskund during summer. People wait since mid night to collect water once water is accumulated in the morning.  
Fig-6b: Villagers collecting water  
Further discussion with villagers revealed that there is another water source which is ~3 km from village. However, only few people collect water from distant water source as it takes more than 1.5 hrs for one trip. In such location, waterwheel works as a life saving product. It doesn’t only reduce drudgery but also saves time and increases opportunity to earn. This kind of water problem is present in almost all villages where I visited in six weeks period.

Next time, I’ll discuss about my experience in actual field demo and people’s enthusiasm for waterwheel. 

Fig-7a: Path near well

Fig-7b: a clear navigable path on the way to well.

Fig-7c: A clear navigable path to Well. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rwanda Safari in Akagera Park

Zebras in Akagera Park

I am pretty sure that you’re not allowed to leave Africa without going on a safari. Seriously. It’s part of the border control interview when you’re boarding the plane home. 

Border Control Officer: “What were you doing in Rwanda ma’am?”
Me: “Working for World Vision in Kigali”
Border Control Officer: “And when did you go on a safari?”
Me: “Uhhhh…”
Border Control Officer: “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step off the plane…”

In all seriousness, Africa is host to some of the most spectacular views and impressive wildlife I’ve ever seen, and much of the countryside and landscape is unspoiled by human development. The safari was also my first opportunity to travel outside of the city of Kigali and see some of the Rwandan countryside, including the extremely impressive hills that are spread throughout the entire country.

Six of us met up at the un-Godly hour of 5 am on a Saturday morning to travel to Akagera National Park, a 1200 km park in the north east of Rwanda, located along the Tanzania border. The park was established in 1934 to protect animal and vegetation.  It is named after the Kagera River, which flows along the east boundary and feeds into several lakes.

The safari team included three Rossers, myself, another WDI intern Therese (working for Nuru Energy this summer) and a recent ross graduate Russell (currently working at a hospital in a small village called Ruli), along with three Canadian journalism students that Therese and I met during our first weeks in Kigali. We packed into an all terrain vehicle with a removable roof, perfect for taking pictures of animals that we saw throughout the day.

The trip to the park took around 3 hours, during which time I saw my first glimpses of the Rwanda country side. The lush, rolling hills covered in green trees stood in stark contrast to the usual flat landscape of Michigan that I’d become accustomed to over the last two years. 

So many hills!

During the trip, we passed through a number of villages. At each village, children would stop and wave at the huge car full of “muzunga”s – the all encompassing East African term for foreigner. Seeing the villages was the first time that I could see people living in poverty. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Kigali is extremely developed and has most of the modern conveniences that I’m accustomed to having back home. However, as we passed the villages, I could see firsthand some of the people that World Vision is working to help.

Once we arrived in Akagera, we were briefed by the park guides on what to expect and some information about the park. Following the war in Rwanda, many refugees returned to Rwanda and settled in the savannah area of the park and converted it to farmland, reducing the park size from 2500 km to the current size of 1200 km. The farmers then killed off many of the animals, including Lions, to protect their animals. However, the park will reintroduce eight Lions from Kenya this coming August and black rhinos at another time in the future. However, the guide assured us that Akagera was home to many animals that we might see, including giraffes, zebras, buffalo, impala (a species of antelope), hippos, and over 500 species of birds. There are even a few elephants that live in the park, though they hadn’t been spotted in four days, so the probability of seeing them was very low.

Starting our safari!

Finally, around 9 am we started our safari. The dirt road was very bumpy, but our driver and guide expertly maneuvered the curves. We were lucky to have such a knowledgeable guide; he was able to bring us to many of the sites where animals were resting. He was also able to point out and explain many of the animals we encountered. For me, the highlight of the trip was the huge Hippo colony that was relaxing out of the water. It even looks like they were cuddling with each other. From a far, they looked friendly peaceful, though our guide warned us that they would love to make us into a tasty snack if given the chance.

These Hippos look like they're cuddling... but really they're planning how best to prepare some Tourist stew

Yep those are Monkeys!
This antelope was just chillin, completely unconcerned about our presence

The safari took four hours, and we were able to see Zebra, Giraffes, Monkeys, Impala, Hippos, and countless birds of various colors and sizes. I’ve included some of the pictures that I took, though they don’t even begin to do justice to the number and frequency of animals that we encountered. Even when we didn’t see animals, the views of the lakes and mountains were so spectacular that there was never a moment that I wasn’t completely engaged. We even got out of the car and had a break for lunch in the middle of the savannah, which our guide assured us is completely safe to do.
Unfortunately, there were no elephant sightings on our safari, but for me, the up-close views of the Hippos more than compensated. I’m looking forward to many more adventures in Rwanda in the coming weeks!

 Hippos and hills... welcome to Rwanda!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Unlocking the locked ones!

Place for solar in Indian energy sector
With an installed base capacity of ~250 GW (70% of which is fossil-fuel based power), India is building fast on its renewable power generation with wind holding the highest share as of today (8.6% of total installed base capacity). For a quick comparison, US power sector generates ~1050 GW power (4 times base capacity of India) for 1/4th equivalent of Indian population.

Solar power currently holds a minuscule space (1%) in the country with 2.6 GW capacity. However, it has received a recent thrust on account of the National Solar Mission with a target of 22 GW in 2022 (20 GW on-grid and 2 GW off-grid)

Uttar Pradesh (UP hereafter) is the most populous state in India with nearly 200 million people. For comparison, this is equivalent to total population of Brazil squeezed in an area 35 times smaller than that of Brazil. 75% people in UP live in rural areas where there is either under-electrification (prolonged power cuts of anything ranging from 4 hours/day up to 18 hours/day) or zero electrification (so called Off-grid areas). Naturally, this is a breeding ground for social enterprises who are trying to reach these customers through multiple means of solar powered energy solutions. Simpa is one of such upcoming enterprise that promises clean, affordable electricity for a single home.

Need for Off-grid solutions
Needs of under-electrified customers are easier to understand and meet through solar energy solutions since they know the benefits of electricity and consider it as a necessity. Additionally, they suffer the pain of prolonged power cuts and constantly search for back-up methods of power like inverters or generator. Hence, scores of solar solutions have sprung up across the country to meet their needs. Simpa started its journey with under-electrified customers.

However, the real social need and business opportunity lies in off-grid areas where people don’t understand the importance of energy, let alone clean energy like solar power. Their USP though is that no-one has a holistic knowledge about their energy needs or WTP. The reason is simple enough – lack of direct accessibility to nearly 290 million such customers (30% of Indian population) who are spread all across the country and live primarily on agriculture related activities.

Hence, my internship start was ambiguous with never-before envisioned customer mindset. Imagine yourself talking to people who don’t view energy as a necessity, leave alone the importance of clean vs dirty energy source! Below are a couple of pics to give brief glimpse of their homes.
Customer #1

Customer #2
During the internship, my job was to build customer profile and unlock their barriers to adoption of solar energy. Also during the exercise, we had to arrive at the right pricing mechanism and delivery channel to reach and appeal to most of our customers. As part of the exercise, we decided a block (smaller area than a district and contains a population of ~4000-5000 households) as our testing ground. We further narrowed down the focus to a select group of villages to completely understand customer mindset and adoption barriers. Next phase was rapid prototyping and experimentation to unlock these barriers with new innovative experiments that would help Simpa gain instant trust and massive demand in off-grid villages.
My ride for nearly entire internship

Our travel to villages and glimpse of rural UP
Transportation is not easy as one tries to venture into villages from town settlements. Most of these villages do have motorable roads, although some don’t. We did visit a couple villages that were reachable only by two wheelers or by feet. For major part of our field work, this auto-rickshaw and it’s driver were a crucial part of our team. Together, we braved everything from hot winds of summer to cool showers of monsoon.
Sometimes, roads were motorable

Yet, sometimes, they were not!

As soon as we would reach any village, swarm of kids immediately surrounded our vehicle to get a glimpse of ‘what’s inside?’. Since our work required us to make repeat visits to same villages, people would instantly recognize the sole vehicle driving with 4 town folks and murmur ‘Saur urja wale aaye hain’ meaning “the solar guys are here”.

Night demonstrations were one of our powerful tools to get a better understanding of people. At night as we entered any village, we saw pitch-black darkness as people use kerosene oil inside their homes only for supper. Having nothing to do at night, they went to bed early. In these circumstances, doing a night demonstration was like a holy grail when we helped people compare their kerosene lamp with a bright solar-powered white light. There were occasionally issues of safety but none too severe to stop our work or research.
Me & our sales manager doing a night demonstration in a village

Fun moments
I started using local cotton garment that is typically wrapped around one’s head or shoulders to stay relatively cool in hot weather. Below is my pic where I tried to wear it as a turban. Culinary delights in villages were a fun experience that also helped beat the 116 F heat, at least for some time. Crushed ice with sugar syrup and boiled chickpeas with salt and onion were some of these delights that our team savored like premier delicacies. We also occasionally picked up fruits (mangoes and black plum) from trees by the way.
Yup, that was my avatar for 6-7 weeks of hot summer!

Peppermint oil was another exotic discovery that we made for heat relief. Farmers typically grow peppermint right after their sugarcane crop harvest in April and reap it by onset of monsoon. The oil contains copious amounts of menthol (used in our shampoo bottles or hair oil to add cooling effect) and only 2-3 drops of pure peppermint oil is enough to turn a bucket full of water into cool ‘mentholated’ water. Our field technician, who is a farmer himself, got us a small bottle of peppermint oil that we are using even until now to get a refreshing shower every morning (and evening/night).

Crushed ice with sugar 
Boiled chick peas garnished with onion and chillies at a road-side shop

How I unlocked my own potential:
Working at Simpa has been an enormous learning experience due to the fast-paced and exhaustive learning environment of a start-up venture. To say the least, I picked up the little habits of making a plan for next day (in writing). This little mundane activity saves a ton of time when on the field. To give an example, if we travel without a plan, I would end up being led by our sales manager to reach prospective customers. However, with a sketched out plan, we are able to get 30% more outcome from the day. Despite the factors like weather, unavailability of people, traffic jams or poor roads which are ‘typical’ working conditions in rural India, the little planning habit is a lifesaver.

Rapid prototyping and experimentation is another important learning. After talking to scores of villagers, their needs, beliefs and motivations, I designed several experiments to test the behavior, many of which were decided on-the-spot. Also, I was able to stretch my own capabilities. Combination of field work and brain storming did help increase amount of work done per day.

Another learning was that rural customers tell you openly if you do two things: (a) Give them analogies as much as possible and (b) Add jokes in between to help them open up. If customers are not giving information, we tried to inflate estimates. Then, they would instantly tell the right information. These sorts of rapid prototyping experiments were helpful to understand and speak to customers in their own language and in their own way.

A small activity of keeping a pen in pocket every day before leaving hotel helped a lot. Once out of hotel and into rural villages, it’s impossible to find potable water to drink, let alone other things. Additionally, it became extremely useful to jot down epiphanies during travel from one village to another. Last but not the least, the social impact achieved as a result of lighting up lives of 500+ people has left me a lot more humble and committed to do greater good for society.

I would like to end with a confession. This post doesn’t capture even 25% of the fun, learning and social impact that I have witnessed in the past couple months as there has been simply too much to absorb in a very short time. I do hope though that this is a starting point for anyone interested in energy, especially in rural solutions to gain some preliminary insights.

Post written and photos by Rahul Tapariya