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Solar for Sion: A Ray of Hope

In the small village of Sion in Sarawak, 45 families have been living without electricity for the past 27 years. Through Global Peace Foundation Malaysia's All-Lights Village initiative, the solar energy was brought to relieve the energy poverty in Sion.

Yong Joy Anne | Updated: 15-05-2019 15:53 IST | Created: 15-05-2019 15:53 IST
Solar for Sion: A Ray of Hope
Global Peace Foundation Malaysia

Burai stands in the doorway of her wooden hut, carrying her year-old son on one hip. She calls out to her daughter, Olivia, and a few seconds later she scurries home, sweaty from an evening spent playing in the village.

Daylight is waning fast and soon it will be night. There's a lot of things that Burai has to get done before darkness snatches away her precious time. She immediately sets to work helping her daughter pack her books for school and laying out the few dishes she had prepared earlier for dinner.

Her family of four gathers in a small circle to have dinner, a flashlight placed in the centre serving as their only source of light. When their meal is over, there is nothing left to do but to go to bed.

Shedding Light on the Energy-Poor

Kampung Sion is a village of about 45 families, majority of which are Ibanese. Their village, although only a ten-minute drive to town, does not have access to piped water and electricity. In an age where electricity is a part of our daily lives—from powering lights, charging devices, providing entertainment, and making everything easier—it is mind-boggling to imagine the lengths they have to go to and the exorbitant price they have to pay just for a few hours of electricity.

The people of Sion mainly work as contract workers, labourers, and farmers. Some of the poorer families can only afford to use kerosene lamps, candles, and car batteries, while a few houses have their own electric generators that can provide power to refrigerators, televisions, washing machines, fluorescent lights, and more.

However, the cost of operating a generator far outweighs the benefits. For starters, the price of a generator varies from RM1,500 to RM3,000 (UD360 to USD720) depending on its horsepower. The fuel needed to keep it running for three hours a day amounts to RM5 (USD1.20). On top of that, the motor oil costs RM15 (USD3.60) per weekly refill.

A family using a generator can easily spend anywhere between RM150 to RM200 (USD36 to USD48) a month for electricity, and they are only using it for three hours a day. Compare that to the average electricity bill of urban folk and you can already see the disparity in the standard of living.

A Brighter Future

The Solar for Sion project is part of All Lights Village initiative of Global Peace Foundation that aims to alleviate energy poverty in underserved communities with sustainable solar technology to enhance the quality of life and improve livelihood. On March 28, 2019, the installation of home solar systems for 39 houses in Kampung Sion was completed. So far, 834 people in 16 underserved villages across Malaysia has been provided with sustainable solar energy.

Solar is a form of clean, renewable energy that can relieve the financial burden faced by energy-poor households. Just switching to solar alone can help a family that used to rely on generators save up to RM200 (USD48) a month.

The money saved can be used for more pressing needs like children's education and daily expenses.

Talap and his wife, Agnes, are one of the families that benefited under the Solar for Sion project in collaboration with YTL. "We spend more than RM100 (USD24) a month on diesel to power our generator. We only turn it on for five nights a week, from 6.30pm to 11 pm, for lighting and to watch TV. Sometimes, when it gets too hot during the day, we turn on the generator for a while to power the fan. But only for a short time as we have to save fuel."

For Talap who is a dialysis patient, being able to save RM100 (USD24) a month makes a big difference to him. He has been out of work since he was diagnosed with kidney failure and relies on welfare and SOCSO for his living and medical expenses. "Betul-betul senang hati saya sekarang (I feel very relieved)."

Aida is a mother of two boys. Her husband works as a labourer at a construction site and Aida takes on odd jobs like waitressing and cleaning to help out with the family's expenses. Her two-year-old generator broke down a few months ago and her family has been using oil lamps during the night. "It costs RM500 (USD120) to fix the generator. I'd rather invest that money in the solar system instead."

Aida values the importance of education and always takes time to help her sons revise their studies. For the past few months, they have been doing so under the dim light of an oil lamp. "Sometimes I use my phone's flashlight to shine on their books while they read. But then the battery runs out and I can't even charge it without electricity. We end up going to sleep early. I think this solar would be good for us and will help us save money. One fluorescent tube is enough to light up this space and my boys can study comfortably. They can even watch TV later as a reward."

Aida has managed to save RM100 (USD24) so far in the two months that she switched to solar. She plans to buy a fan with the money so that her family will be more comfortable during the hot daytime hours. This Solar for Sion is also supported by private partners YTL Power and SolarNRJ.



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