Report of first internally displaced persons receiving light in Vaddawan
By René Scalabrini, Project Manager, Volunteer from Switzerland
& Sherry Xia, Assistant, Volunteer, student from MIT USA
July 27, 2005
Vaddawan a small village, in the Batticaloa District in the east, one of the worsted Tsunami affected areas, composed of fishermen and their families who were affected by the tsunami in December 2004. While they lived close to the beach before disaster struck, they are now forced to live quite a distance from the ocean. Approximately 142 families were relocated to temporary shelters in Vaddawan. These homes are constructed mainly of sheet metal roofs and walls. (for a related article please refer to http://www.sarvodaya.org/2005/04/29/a-lesson-in-community-spirit-and-cooperation)
Living on the same property are also 47 war-affected families. Some of the families have been living in Vaddawan for around 20 years. These homes are just as small and simple as the tsunami refugee shelters.
Vaddawan was chosen as the first site of installation upon Sarvodaya’s suggestion. It is far off the grid and will not receive electricity for years to come. Sarvodaya also plans to ultimately build permanent houses in Vaddawan.
Preparation work in Colombo
The installation of solar lighting systems went underway on July 21, 2005. The first 200 systems out of 1000 systems donated by; LUTW (Light Up The World an organization from the university of Calgary Canada, were acquired from Crystal Electronics Colombo. Before leaving for the target village of Vaddawan, my team of independent volunteers and I had two days to prepare all the installation parts. We worked at the Sarvodaya headquarters in Colombo to prepare the systems- cutting strips of wires that would connect the solar panel, battery, and lights and attaching connectors and light switches.
Even after working around the clock during the two days of July 21 and 22, we were not able to finish all 200 sections. Thus three of the six volunteers scheduled to go to Vaddawan with me stayed behind in Colombo an extra day to complete the preparation work.
After the preparation in Colombo, we journeyed eight hours to the east. Morning of July 24 we started installation in Vaddawan. The villagers greeted us with a warm opening ceremony where Mr. Careem, the district coordinator of Sarvodaya in Batticaloa,
delivered a short speech and asked us to light ceremonial oil lamps in honor of the event.
Afterwards swarms of villagers followed us for part of the morning, curious to
see the installation process.
There were many local volunteers ready to pitch in, helping to unload the cargo
and sort out individual sets of system parts. We ultimately broke into 3 teams.
One to drill holes in the sheet metal roofs of the refugee shelters for the
solar panel and pole to go through. One to wire the panel to the battery and lights. One to check on whether the system functioned properly.
After checking on the first few systems, we found that some of the connectors were incorrectly attached. Two volunteers helped fix the problem for much of the day.
In the early afternoon, the second group of volunteers arrived from Colombo. This group of volunteers helped complete wiring and drilling poles and solar panels together.
The local helpers from the village and the Sarvodaya district continued to go house to house, installing the systems under my supervision. Their enthusiasm for the project translated into fast, efficient work. We were able to install a very gratifying number of systems on the first day. The second and third day of installation generated similar and equally satisfactory work.
At the end of each day, the most rewarding part was being able to hand over the systems to the families.
The villagers’ delight in our project was displayed through their eagerness to help and their generous offerings of tea and food. We were so uplifted by the warm and friendly atmosphere generated by their enthusiasm. Even after the long hours of work we endured in Colombo, we were able to draw energy and strength from the village’s kindness and complete the installation process with an even stronger sense of commitment.
As the three days in the village progressed, a stronger friendship was built between the independent volunteers and the villagers. Droves of local children were attracted to the commotion and stopped by to dance, sing, and play ball with the volunteers. Families opened their homes to us for lunch.
Mr. Careem was extremely pleased and happy about the work completed in Vaddawan. He expressed great interested in acquiring 134 more solar systems from LUTW and Sarvodaya for additional tsunami affected villages.
Names of independent volunteers who contributed to the project
Sherry Xia (United States)
Saba Gul (United States/Pakistan)
Sergio Scalabrini (Switzerland)
Wim Laven (United States)
Ravi Lorgeshvaran (Sri Lanka)
Rahel Fuchs (Switzerland)
Silpa Kaza (United States)
Alia Whitney-Johnson (United States)