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Suluan Island Part 2: Sugaan an Suluan

by Uro Tahup

It was way past ten in the evening of July 23, 2015, the last night of the new moon, in remote Sulu-an Island located at Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

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A woman was fetching water from the community tap stand situated at Zone 2, one of the seven sitios of the remote island barangay. The smile on her face and the look on her eyes captured the words of gratitude she wanted to express to the ICSC team that earlier installed a solar streetlight near the community tap stand. At last, fetching water at night and dawn will no longer expose her, other women and even children from the inconvenience and risks of doing such a simple task in the dark. The solar streetlight is indeed best barangay tanod.

“I can see the solar streetlights in Zone 7 from my position on the beach at Zone 4; they are like big shining eyes staring at me in the dark”, narrated Sulu-an Barangay Chairman Franciso “Paqui” Calumpiano.

Along with Zone 1, Zone 7 is located at the opposite end of the island and far away from the main barangay center. The solar streetlights not only brighten up the dark pathways in Zones 1 and 7 but also serve as clear beacons for fisherfolk returning to the island from the sea at night.

“Malamrag na an Plaza (the Plaza is bright)”, commented an old man after Leo Quiros, the manager of LDQ Enterprises – Renewable Energy Innovation, ICSC’s supplier of the solar streetlights system, turned on the LED lights installed at the Plaza Stage, the Barangay Health Center and near two community tap stands.

Before ICSC’s Solar Streetlights Project, a lonely solar streetlight standing on the church compound casted its radiance into the Sulu-an Plaza. During the last night of the new moon on July 23, 2015, the old man said that the people can celebrate and couples can dance the amenudo in the lit Plaza.

 

What has been achieved by ICSC’s Sulu-an Solar Streetlights Project?

All in all, the ICSC team composed of four staff (Francis, Andrea, Glinly and Uro) and three solar electricians (Leo, Jezreel and Danichi) backed up by hardworking barangay Kagawad Dondon Badan Jr, local electrician Medi and about 15 Sulu-an women installed 23 solar streetlights illuminating 16 community tap stands, the Plaza Stage, the Barangay Health Center and part of the compound of the Sulu-an Integrated School, directly benefitting 354 households in the island. (See table below.)

Zone Number of CommunityTap Stands/Community Facilities Number of solar street lights Number of Households
Zone 1 2 community tap stands 4 70
Zone 2 3 community tap standsSulu-an Integrated School 4 44
Zone 3 3 community tap stands 3 70
Zone 4 2 community tap stands 2 35
Zone 5 3 community tap standsBarangay Health CenterBarangay Plaza 5 74
Zone 6 1 community tap stand 1 26
Zone 7 2 community tap stands 4 35
Total 16 community tap stands1 Integrated School Compound1 Barangay Health Center1 Barangay Plaza 23 solar street lights 354 households

Solar streetlights in Sulu-an (upper right and left) Barangay Health Center and Plaza Stage (lower right and left)

 

The project also reaped more gains for the people of Sulu-an.

  • By installing a total of 23 solar LED bulbs connected to solar streetlight units near community tap stands and 3 community structures, the Barangay Suluan Council could lessen its consumption of diesel fuel, saving funds from its limited annual budget. The council had spent more than P50, 000 a year to buy diesel fuel for its generator which powers 50 streetlights spread out across the 7 zones. To save on fuel costs, the barangay has been implementing a policy of not operating the generator during a full moon.
  • Strong typhoons and turbulent seas always isolate Sulu-an from the Guiuan mainland. Access to diesel fuel for the municipal generator becomes problematic as crossing the ocean poses risks even to big pump boats. Properly disassembled from the posts and stored in a safe place before typhoons hit the island, these solar streetlights can be assembled and installed again, giving light to Suluan after the storm.
  • The installation of solar streetlights in Suluan is expected to create a bandwagon for adopting household solar power system among its residents who have relied for too long on kerosene-fueled gasera, portable solar lamps donated by NGOs and private foundations, and a few generators for their lighting and other power needs.

Since the social preparation stage of the project and even during the actual installation, people have been inquiring from ICSC staff if the institute has a similar solar power project for households. They want to know the costs of installation, payment schemes and other details. The will to invest in solar power is evident. What need to be worked out in the days ahead are the crucial issues revolving around households’ capacity to pay for the project, and its sustainability through transparent and effective collection schemes and tech support.

Without a doubt, Suluan is fertile ground for sowing the seeds of solar power.

solar lights collage

 

Pintakasi Strategy

The success of ICSC’s Sulu-an Solar Streetlights Project is anchored upon the Pintakasi Strategy (bayanihan in Waray) or cooperation among different NGOs – specifically Oxfam, Plan International and ICSC – and barangay officials to light up the island’s community tap stands with each partner pitching in their respective manpower and resources for the successful completion of the project.

Oxfam correctly identified Sulu-an as the best site to rollout ICSC’s community solar power project, since it has never been connected to the electric grid despite persistent requests from its local officials to ESAMELCO and the government to carry out full electrification of the remote island where Super Typhoon Yolanda first made landfall. Focused on organizing the Sulu-an Barangay Water and Sanitation Association (BAWASA), Oxfam also linked up ICSC with local officials and provided important data on the community situation, particularly WASH issues.

Plan International funded the Cash for Work Program in hauling Culipapa hardwood posts from the destroyed pantalan and erecting these round logs as streetlight posts.

The Barangay Council, specially Kagawad Dondon  Badan Jr., assisted ICSC staff in the social preparation and technical assessment of sites where the solar streetlights were installed to light up the 16 community tap stands and other critical community facilities. Barangay officials mobilized both women and men in the hauling and erecting of Culipapa posts. They provided ladders and other tools in the installation as well as billeting for the ICSC staff during their stay in the island.

All throughout the process, ICSC spearheaded and coordinated all the partners’ initiatives, deployed its key personnel in the social preparation and networking with all stakeholders, developed the technical design, funded and installed the 23 solar streetlights in island.

Kagawad Dondon summed up the effectiveness of the ICSC project: “Noon, may bumisita sa amin na taga-NAPOCOR at nangakong magkakaroon ng ilaw ang buong isla. Ilang taon na ang nagdaan, pero wala pa rin kaming koryente. Dalawang beses lang dumalaw sa isla ang taga-ICSC, sa ikatlong bisita’y  sinugaan na ang Sulu-an!”

In Sulu-an Island, team work makes the dream work.

Women Power in Suluan

The story of the Sulu-an Solar Streetlights Project will never be complete without narrating and acknowledging the important role played by Sulu-an women – the descendants of the giant Maka-andog, the protector of Sulu-an’s people and fragile island ecosystem as recounted in Waray folklore.

women power

About 15 women hauled the heavy and sturdy Culipapa hardwood posts from the destroyed pantalan located along the coast and erected these round logs which now serve as solar streetlight posts in areas near the 16 community tap stands spread out across the 7 zones or sitios of the island.

Under the blazing sun, they accomplished this herculean task with a little help from the good music blaring on a portable radio. They were singing, dancing and celebrating the power of women to make a difference in their community.

 

Sulu-an women are truly the heirs of the giant Maka-andog.

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