When the Sun Goes Down

About seven out of every 10 households in rural India have no access to electricity. Many of these households still use less efficient energy sources that are harmful to the environment, such as kerosene. Even in places where electricity is accessible, shortages are frequent and the supply is inconsistent. In such a scenario, solar lamps come as a blessing and are revolutionizing lives in the country and around the world.

PRASHANT MANDAL FLIPS ON A CANDY-BAR-SIZE LED LIGHT in the hut he shares with his wife and four children. Instantly hues of canary yellow and ocean blue—reflecting off the plastic tarps that serve as the family’s roof and walls—fill the cramped space where they sleep.  He shuts down the solar unit that powers the light and unplugs it piece by piece, then carries it to a tent some 20 yards away, where he works as a chai wallah, selling sweet, milky tea to travelers on the desolate road in Madhotanda, a forested town near the northern border of India.

“My life is sad, but I have my mind to help me through it,” Mandal says, tapping the fraying cloth of his orange turban. “And this solar light helps me to keep my business open at night.”

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Building an Empire, A Fish at a Time

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

We talk about sustainable development. Often, the definition is relegated to the environment domain alone and does not cover social and human capital. The United Nations has identified gender equality as one of the key Millennium Development Goals, validating the fact that every small victory is a step forward for the larger good. Like Mama Sylvia’s story.

Gertrude Nabukeera, or Mama Sylvia as she is usually known, stands with her arms resting on her hips as she supervises a handful of men unloading the catch from a fishing boat. It’s early in the morning and the boats are bringing their night’s catch in at the Nakatiba landing site, on the island of Bugala in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest expanse of fresh water. More than 400m long and lined with motor-driven boats, this landing site is owned and run by Mama Sylvia.There are concrete stalls from which she sells the catch of the day, and to the right an icebox the size of a freight container in which she stores the fish.

It’s unusual for a woman to be the boss of a fishing business in Uganda, or anywhere else for that matter, but even more surprising is the fact that she herself was once a fisherwoman – one fisherwoman among many, many fishermen.

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When Soap Makes the Difference

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Ever wondered what happens to the barely used soaps that you leave behind in hotel rooms? Think they get reused? We’ve got bad news – they don’t. In fact they are normally tossed away, cluttering our already crowded landfills. The solution at our Raxa Collective properties is to use dispensers filled with all-natural liquid soaps to avoid the waste of bar soaps. Sundara, a soap making operation in Mumbai has a community-based solution to the problem. They collect bar soap waste from hotels, sanitize and recycle it and distribute the new soaps to underprivileged children and adults who cannot afford soap. To date they have regular soap distributions reaching over 6,000 underprivileged children and adults in Mumbai slums. They have also saved thousands of kilograms of waste from going to landfills in the process.

And it started with a University of Michigan graduate. And she didn’t let a near-death experience with dengue hemorrhagic fever stop her from making the world and its people a little more clean.

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