Solar Scholars share skills to disaster responders

By Arturo Tahup Provincial and municipal officers were mesmerized as residents from sitios Costa Brava and Mahusay Beach, Tacloban put together a solar power system. They are the six newly-trained solar scholars that are now tasked to provide support and spread their skills around the province. Hazel Ocenar, Angela Denilda Lumbre and Merly Badato, women from San Jose who had no previous experience in electricity and electronics, easily assembled a simple photo-voltaic (PV) lighting system. They shattered the provincial, sexist myth that technology is a man’s world. Such simple system can brighten homes, evacuation centers and latrines during blackouts triggered by calamities. Pablo Colete, Randy Mark Zosa and Herb Cedeño turned on LED lights, charged mobile phones and powered a lap top by using the TekPak - the solar scholars' portable solar PV pack. The kit will be used to provide energy access to vulnerable communities, government responders and humanitarian actors in times of disasters. A barrage of questions followed the TekPak demonstration. Municipal officers asked whether they can conduct Solar Scholars Training in their respective towns and acquire TekPaks for their response teams. From the Ruins Things were not the same back in the early months after super storm Yolanda washed away their homes nestled along the coasts of San Jose and Magallanes. Hazel Ocenar from Costa Brava Tent City witnessed the deaths of her cousin’s wife and six children after their tent was engulfed by a fire when a kerosene lamp fell to the ground and set ablaze combustible items strewn on the tent floor. They survived Yolanda but not the Costa Brava Tent City fire. Could precious lives had been saved if the Ocenar family were using a safe solar lamp instead of kerosene lamp? Could the quick burning fire had been suppressed if community leaders followed instructions during the previous disaster preparedness training that same month to pre-position drums filled with water (even sea water!) and buckets filled with sand in strategic places within the Tent City that can be used by bucket relay teams in the absence of fire extinguishers? These are the questions running inside my head as I listened to Hazel’s story. After the sea swept away their home and his brother, Jessie Bachecha’s family (of ten) sought shelter for two days inside a damaged multi-cab, lived in a shanty built from scrap materials, and finally resettled to the Habitat for Humanity Housing Site in Northern Tacloban a few weeks ago. Solar scholars But Jessie’s journey cannot be complete without narrating his love affair with the TekPak. Jessie and other fellow solar scholars returned to the Cabalawan Transition Shelter with the TekPak. They charged people’s mobile phones, lit the Community Center during night time community meetings, and powered medical and response equipment in times of emergencies. Jessie started working as a regular staff at RE-Charge Philippines in mid-June this year, he has been part of our team responsible for designing and assembling the new TekPaks with the help of Eastern Visayas State University volunteers and a community electrician. The TekPaks were manufactured using parts that are all locally available making them easily serviceable and with added safety features. Jessie was actively involved in the installation of community solar power systems in San Jose last June and acted as co-facilitator in the latest Solar Scholars Training. Nowadays, I can see passion from the latest batch of solar scholars . I admire their commitment to volunteer as assemblers of more TekPaks; their willingness to train further and become full-pledged renewable energy specialists supporting humanitarian actors in disaster response operations. They are eager to learn and practice sustainable energy solutions such as solar-powered water pumps and solar lighted bulk water tanks that can make a big difference in charting a low carbon development path for survivor communities. Since May 2015, ICSC has trained more than 100 solar scholars from Yolanda affected communities in Tacloban City, other parts of Eastern Visayas, Iloilo and Northern Samar.