Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 19, 2006
Lets turn on the sunshine switch
Guatemalan villagers are searching for solar power
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The other day, a man by the name of Pablo dropped by for a visit. I had met him before in the community of La Lima where he chairs the local church council.
He's a capable man, and under his leadership this small community of some 200 souls managed to build their church with the financial support of an organization helping the Third World in the area of church constructions.
A few months ago, Father Sergio and I blessed the church and celebrated the first Eucharist in the church built with cement blocks for the walls, a tin roof and a cement floor.
It's more the rule than the exception that when the door bell rings most of the time it's people from outlying communities who are in need of something or who want to discuss a project. This time, our friend Pablo needed money to build a metre-wide cement skirt around their new church as it's very muddy and awkward when it rains. That project would cost 1,000 quetzals, or about $200 Canadian.
He was also asking for a bursary to provide for his son doing his teacher training program in Chicam n which cost a bit over $200. Many parents in Canada would be more than happy to get away with that amount for their young people's year of study.
I told him that I'd speak with Father Sergio about these requests and that we'd let him know later about our decision.
Then Pablo had something else he wanted to talk about. It's a project close to his heart - to provide his people with light through solar energy. Very few communities in this diocese have any electricity at all. Chicam n is an exception as it's also the municipality of the area.
When I'm out in the communities, the only light that I've seen is provided by candles. When I travel, I carry a small flashlight which turns out to be very useful. I don't recall ever having seen an oil lamp in my visits in the country. Here, people are poor and people have learned to do without.
However there are people like the man from La Lima who have a pioneering spirit. These are the folks who break through new frontiers and who are agents of change.
However, as much I respected his visionary spirit, something whispered in my ear to be careful and prudent. And that something was the cost of the solar system which he quoted to me.
There is a cheaper one that costs a mere $1,400 and a better one that would cost $2,000. Of course he won't settle for the cheaper one.
I like the idea of exploring the concept of solar energy. In fact, in a recent family reunion, a suggestion was made to explore the possibilities of solar energy for our communities.
But the down-to-earth reality is that when it is known in our widespread parish of 70 communities that we've provided the La Lima community with a $2,000 solar energy plant, the line at our door would be endless.
I suggested to the man that if we were to find the funds for the cheaper unit, couldn't they raise the difference for the more costly model, a mere $600. His response was an emphatic "No, we can't!"
And I believe that it would be a major challenge for them to raise what would amount to 3,600 quetzals.
Our dollar is worth six quetzals. Note that a worker gets about 20 quetzals for a day's work, or about $3 in our currency.
After he's fed his family with that, he hasn't got much left to dicker with.
Yet some of these people allow themselves to dream dreams. Such people are the prophets of their societies. They are the dreamers that make things happen by breaking through new frontiers.
The bottom line is that people would forever be scraping the bottom of the barrel were it not for the dreamers, the explorers, the poets who allow themselves to reflect and to imagine other ways.
"Solar energy for Guatemala's poorest of the poor!" That's the challenge that is put to me, and I wonder if I could share some of that challenge with some of you who know a little bit about it.
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