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Polopina Island Pays It Forward

Blog about solar home systems project distributed to almost a hundred households in an island community, co-written by Andrea and Glinly of RE-Charge Tacloban

As our motorboat docked on the island, I was greeted by the typical Filipino hospitality. The people immediately helped us out with our luggage and equipment. They were so lively and showed obvious excitement to have solar home systems in their houses. I recognized the simplicity of their life, living in an island with very limited electricity sources.  I imagined the sacrifices of the children who wanted to study at night and how dangerous it was for them because they were using kerosene and gas.


A sandbar in the island of Polopina with Mt. Manaphag also known as Pan de Azucar or Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background (highest peak is said to be the steepest mountain in the region).

As I roamed around the island, I realized how lucky other people who are in the comfort of city living with substantial electricity supply.  On the other hand, I knew there were those who wanted to live the ‘island life’, with such beautiful coasts, hills, and abundance from the sea.  I was one of those people.


Off-grid Island

Polopina is one of the islands composing the town of Concepcion, Iloilo with the primary livelihood of fishing.    The island has never been connected to grid electricity and their sources of energy are gas lamps and generators.  An average household spends 15 pesos per day for fuel for their gas lamps.  A privately owned generator is also made available but only from 6pm to 10pm.  The residents would pay for the use of this generator for 15 pesos for two lights and cellphone charging per day, or 30 pesos if they wish to use other appliances such as television.


A coal-fired power plant in main land Concepcion as seen in Polopina Island

Due to an obvious lack of energy source for Panay island, a coal-fired power plant is currently under construction in mainland Concepcion, facing the island of Polopina.  Majority of the residents, however, are against the plant’s activities such as blasting as it will directly affect the marine life, thus their livelihood.


One Uneventful Day

During one of my trips to the island, the mothers told me of a miserable story that happened a few years back.  A seven year old girl who was probably helping prepare supper spilled kerosene over her body and caught fire from the furnace.  Her clothes being soaked in the flammable substance, they lost the little girl in the fire.


Bringing Hope and Light


Ma’am Maribel and Sir Boyet of ICODE discussing the project to the residents

Through a partnership between ICODE and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities through the RE-Charge initiative, a project called Polopina Solar Home System was made available for the residents starting August 2015.  The Solar Home System project aims to provide a clean energy source to supply for the basic energy needs of each household.  The systems were given to interested households and which they will pay back without interest for two years, an amount that is more economical compared to their daily gas and generator expenses.  After two years the system starts generating electricity ‘for free’, shelling out only a very minimal amount for maintenance.  The payment system was established by ICODE through their program called Community Managed Savings and Credit Association (COMSCA).  Through the COMSCA, the members are able to save up through a sinking fund system, and at the same time collect the monthly dues for the SHS.


All proceeds of the COMSCA collection will fund further solar projects in other communities, thus paying it forward.


Vulnerable Countries Represented in Paris Talks

ICSC’s team in Paris is supporting the Philippine delegation and the CVF (Climate Vulnerable Forum), which  issued the historic Manila-Paris Declaration last November 30, 2015, calling for 100% decarbonisation by 2050, the strongest statement thus far in the climate negotiations.  The archipelago remains to be among most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and while we, the foot soldiers continue to advocate sustainable strategies to counter climate change, the advocacy is duly represented in the UN Climate Summit in Paris happening now.


A snap from the Paris talks. Photo by Red Constantino

Island communities like Polopina are most vulnerable to both rapid and slow onset impacts of climate change.  While attention during rehabilitation stage of Haiyan was focused on Eastern Visayas, many communities in Northern Cebu, Negros, and Panay were also waiting on whatever aid they can get.

(Currently in Paris to help support the Philippine delegation and the CVF during the negotiations are iCSC’s Board Chair Athena Ballesteros, Executive Director Red Constantino, and iCSC Board Member Jasper Inventor.)


An Island of Hope

As we were distributing the SHS, everyone was eager to hear their names called out to claim their solar module, the panels and the peripheral parts.  I saw in their eyes the happiness and excitement that they felt when finally they break loose from the unsustainable practices they have gotten used to.  I saw a grandma, in spite being so old, wore a steady smile on her face.  Even if the SHS was quite heavy for her, she insisted on lifting it with both of her arms, though only momentarily, before somebody went over to help her just as I was about to.


One of our eldest recipient, Nanay Linda, with our Iloilo based volunteer and my sister, Nikola.

The residents of Polopina are well-learned and are fully aware on social and environmental issues.  They are conscious about climate change and how dirty sources like the coal-fired power plant across aggravate the situation.  Furthermore, they know that this fossil fuel energy source bring about other ill-effects to their waters and land.  The residents exhibit a strong resistance to coal.  They choose to live a cleaner and simpler life, and now with the acquisition of the SHS, with a light of hope for the future generation of the islanders.


Sir Ed Arroyo, the man behind the SHS, demonstrating how it works.

Brighter Nights: Fun and not-so-fun stories

During our latest visit to the island, we gave out evaluation forms so that recipients may provide feedback on the project and tell us stories on their experiences with the SHS.  While looking at them writing on the evaluation form, I saw them smile so often, telling their fun stories to us before writing them down.  Their stories all boiled down to having brighter nights but they come in many different versions.  Many mothers would tell about preparing supper and breakfast early morning without the hazard of darkness.   Children are now able to read their notes and textbooks at night.  One mother excitedly told us how she sleeps next to LED bulb’s switch so that anytime she needs to go to the comfort room, she could navigate her way easily with the light turned on, a luxury she has never experienced before.  Another mother wrote of a ‘negative’ experience, when now that they have bright lights at night, they get to see the cockroaches and the rats that run about their house.


Training a local pool of technicians.

I feel fortunate to have experienced this kind of opportunity and been given the chance to meet people like them.  What’s even more fulfilling is being able to witness a transformation in the way they live, and knowing that we are a vital part of that transformation.

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