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    « A Year In Retrospect | Main | In Pictures: The Ashden Awards »
    Wednesday
    Jun182014

    A Village of Solar Lighting Entrepreneurs

     Proximity's d.lights, left outside to charge 

    It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about challenges facing low-income farmers in Myanmar, but the migration of landless laborers is one of the biggest problems they encounter. Landless rural inhabitants are leaving their homes at accelerating rates in search of better futures in the cities and abroad, while farmers who count on their help to harvest crops are left short-handed. Migration is also hollowing out rural communities, with the elderly and the young becoming an ever larger portion of village populations.

    Despite this migration pattern, only 5 out of 100 families have left Set Thwar village in recent years. Surrounded by the sandy expanses characteristic of the Magway Region, it’s not initially obvious why Set Thwar’s inhabitants have stayed. However, all it takes is one conversation inside a bamboo-thatched home with a group of 20 or so women, to realize that small household businesses are the reason this community has remained united. 

    Daw Than Sein, for instance, deftly spins a stone wheel while molding a delicate clay vase. Pottery and incense are the village specialties, and she churns out a variety of vases and even an owl-shaped piggy bank in a matter of minutes. It’s no wonder she’s so skilled - she’s been working with clay since she was 15. What is surprising though, is the energy she brings to her craft; at 62, she doesn’t even stop to look up while recounting her family’s history. Almost mechanically, the row of pots next to her steadily expands while one of her six granddaughters sits down next to her, inspired to coat thin wooden sticks with incense to keep her grandmother company.

    Daw Thein Sein spins her magic

    Daw Than Sein’s family first purchased one of Proximity’s solar lights to save money during the monthly religious festivals, which would otherwise cost them 1,500 kyats in candles a night to attend. Before long, another, more significant benefit from the light became apparent: Daw Than Sein’s productivity doubled once she could work into the night. She went from making 50 vases a day, to easily finishing 100.

    “We can get 8 hours of light at night from the light. Now I keep making pots till 9:30pm. I didn’t want my daughters to take the light away to the festivals when they went, so before long, we had two solar lights in the family.”

    While Daw Than Sein’s pottery income is only one part of a larger equation, she’s able to contribute an estimated $360 more a year to her family’s income thanks to the solar light. Collectively, with her two sons working as drivers, her husband tending two acres of land, and her daughter and granddaughter helping transport Daw Than Sein crafts, the family’s able to earn enough to make an uncertain future in a distant city unappealing.

    Stories like Daw Than Sein’s abound in Set Thwar, where 100 families own nearly 150 solar lights. Thanks to the increased productivity of household businesses, few in Set Thwar see a reason to leave their homes. Their stories are a remarkable testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of Myanmar’s rural population, where a simple, well-designed product purchased on credit has the capacity to double revenues from businesses that have been passed down for generations. Daw Than Sain is optimistic about the future, and we thank her for showing us just how much difference a couple extra hours of light can make.

     

     

     

     

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    Reader Comments (1)

    I think I know now where to go after our family trip. I am very interested in this people, I wanna see more solar lights! Maybe I can go check out some creative lights like what I saw on the last website I visited about solar lights, www.leadsun.com.au. Btw, I am a fan of solar lighting. :)

    October 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Webster

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