Women take the lead in lighting up communities with solar lamps

by: Maria Golda Hilario

No mother would ever want to keep her kids waiting, especially when they're cold, tired, and hungry.

But five years ago, this possibility loomed large for Lorna Ortillo Dela Peña, a senior citizen, single parent, and loving mother who also serves as the leader of a women’s group.

Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm, was the site where most relief goods and donations for typhoon victims were delivered. Since roads to and from Tacloban were blocked, Lorna prompted to travel by ferry – days after typhoon Yolanda destroyed her family's hometown, Marabut in Western Samar.

While in the eastern Visayas capital, she was able to get a few packs of rice and canned goods, all for her family’s consumption.

However, as she was about to board the ferry home, she was refused passage despite having already paid her fare. As told by the ferry operator, someone else took her seat and she would have to be left behind. It was a clear case of discrimination and Lorna didn't care for any of that nonsense.

As a veteran of community training programs, Lorna asserted her rights, stood her ground, and put her lessons to good use. As a result, she was able to take the ferry home in no time.

To this day, Lorna still remembers the day when she was almost left behind by the ferry ride in Tacloban. And like most Yolanda survivors, she refused to let that incident hold her back.

Nowadays, as president of the Marabut Women's Federation, Lorna has helped steer the organization to take the lead in promoting and strengthening the role of women in the community's affairs. In relation to this, the federation partnered with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) in organizing the first women-led Solar Scholars Training Program held in Marabut last October, a few days before typhoon Yolanda’s fifth anniversary.

This was the first solar scholars training facilitated by all women who were former graduates of the program. Participants reflected on how gender roles on access, management, and decision-making on energy at the household level have shifted after typhoon Yolanda struck. Opportunities for women to engage in productive work grew and gender stereotypes were challenged. Through empowerment, women have proven that they too – can build and fix houses, as well as provide light and power to the community.

Lorna inspired the participants as she shared to them her expertise and skills in assembling a basic solar power set-up, proving that age and gender are not barriers to learning new things and serving the community.

Participants learn how to operate the solar TekPaks during the Solar Scholars Training Program held last October 2018 in Marabut, Western Samar. © Denise Fontanilla/ICSC


The participants also learned how to use and maintain the solar TekPaks, a portable power system designed by Yolanda survivors for community emergency use. During an emergency simulation drill in an evacuating community, the women proudly demonstrated how the system can power critical facilities such as toilets, evacuation centers, nebulizers, chargers for mobile phones, and radios.

As my colleague Celine Tabinga wrote in her own blog, the participants would be able to "train community women's groups as disaster front liners while integrating renewable energy into their Disaster Risk Reduction capacity" by using their own Tekpaks.

On the other hand, a similar program was shared by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia D. Albert during the first regional gathering of the Women in Renewables Asia (WiIRA), which was held at the third ASEAN Solar Energy Storage Congress and Expo in Muntinlupa City last November. WiRA is a group of female leaders providing capacity-building and support for fellow women in the environment sector.

The Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) join the ASEAN Solar and Energy Storage Congress, which focused on women in the renewable energy industry and the regional progress report on renewable energy development in the ASEAN. This was held last 13-15 November 2018 in Bellevue Hotel Alabang. © Denise Fontanilla/ICSC


The program, called “Tanging Tanglaw”, involves grandmothers in indigenous communities, initially in Bamban, Tarlac and Gala, Zambales. Organized by DIWATA, a non-government organization where Albert is a trustee, Tanging Tanglaw sends "solar lolas" to the Barefoot College in Tilonia, India where they are taught "how to assemble, repair, and maintain solar lamps that are good for ten years." So far, eight “solar lolas” have returned to their communities, providing not just light but hope, "especially to the young who are studying at night."

"Farmers can also harvest at early dawn so that products can make their way to the market before [the weather] gets too hot," Albert said during the WiRA forum.

Clearly, these programs show that there are opportunities for women to take lead roles in the growing renewable energy community, whether they be executives, engineers, or - in the cases of Marabut, Bamban, and Gala - technicians and volunteers.

In a time when the world is challenged to power development with cleaner energy, women are doing their part by lighting up the community, one solar lamp at a time.