In the remote corner of Nagaland’s Mon district, residents of Shinnyu village bordering Myanmar depended on moonlight, battery torchlight and bamboo torches to light up their homes. However, illuminated with solar lights, the village is no longer invisible at night.
Over a telephonic conversation, 46-year-old Kossan tells EastMojo how their lives have changed in the village, which is home to 338 people.
“There was complete darkness in our homes, in the village and other villages could see Shinnyu only during the day. But now, we are visible even at night,” he told EastMojo.
Kossan says residents now no longer burden themselves to carry loads of wood as solar-powered lights have led to lower wood consumption.
“With much difficulty, we used to carry lots of wood from the fields to prepare food at home and to just sit by near the fireplace,” he recalled.
With the “sun’s warmth” now felt at night, he said that residents whose homes have electricity no longer wait for daylight to complete their works. “Even if we have to work at night, we now sit under the light and work,” Kossan added.
“When somebody gets sick also, we can see each other face-to-face”.
Kossan also expressed his gratitude to all the kind-hearted people who made it possible to install solar lights in the village.
Neangmei, a women leader from the village, told EastMojo that electrification ushered a new lease of life in the village. She recalled how a day would start with sunrise and end with sunset. But now, residents can have a ‘nightlife’.
“Since there is light now, we can walk on the streets at night and even pay a visit to one another,” she added.
The power of a teacher
Kossan, Neangmei and other residents would have continued living in darkness had it not been for John Khangnyu, a teacher at the lone school in Shinnyu who decided to take to social media to speak for the un-electrified village.
John, a resident from Tobu—about 60-km away from Shinnyu, has been teaching at the only school in the village –a government primary school, for the past five years. He told EastMojo that he decided to post it on social media to let the world know about them.
He recalled that when he reached the village in 2016, the villagers hardly had any knowledge about the outside world. Besides having no electricity, poor roads and network connectivity prevented residents from accessing even basic requirements.
Although roads connecting the villages are pliable during the dry season, the locals often travelled by foot as there is no means of transportation (except a few families owning a motorbike). The village also has no access to any essential commodity store due to transportation issues.
He said that the village settlement began in 1977 and was later recognised as a village in 2002. According to him, the state government attempted electrification in 2013-14, but the project was later abandoned.
John went on to express contentment on how his social media post helped fulfil the villagers’ dreams.
“The villagers are in the light for the first time, and many of them shed tears out of joy. I am feeling satisfied,” he told EastMojo over the phone.
Through the help of a Facebook friend, a Naga engineer, John had been in touch with the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) since 2019. GHE has been working for sustainable development in remote communities.
John had to conduct several surveys in the village for Shinnyu’s electrification with solar power. The deputy commissioner of Mon district had also written to the GHE India for the implementation of solar microgrids-based electrification in 10 villages under Mon district, including Shinnyu.
In the letter, DC had mentioned that there is no plan to connect these villages through central grid-based electricity in the next 4-5 years due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the villages. As per the DC, Shinnyu records 220 households.
The role of GHE
Jaideep Bansal, the Chief Operating Officer of the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), told EastMojo that the GHE got in touch with John following his post on Facebook in 2019.
He informed that the GHE also received a request for a list of villages to be electrified in Mon and Tuensang, and that it is approaching multiple companies to sponsor the electrification cost for the villages.
Bansal added that although the solar grid cost is taken care of through CSR funding, it advises the communities to maintain a bank account where the communities can save money for maintenance, repair, and further electrification projects.
To empower locals, he said that a five-day capacity development workshop would be held at Mon in mid-April to train locals in solar electrification. He also informed that trained engineers from Garo hills in Meghalaya contributed to the electrification in Shinnyu and hoped that locals from the state would also benefit from the workshop and contribute in electrifying more villages in the state.
Bansal said that plans are in the pipeline to electrify primary health care centres and schools in Mon for which it is closely working closely with the district administration. Its focus is on solar electrification of villages in remote areas, solar powering of health care centres and installing medical equipment, solar powering in school and setting up computer labs.
As the GHE has been working on developing remote areas for the past eight years, he said that the team is contented to work with areas which are inaccessible by road. “Where the road ends, our work begins. We believe that with the advancement of the world and technologies, development can reach to such places and can bring them at par with others,” he added.
The GHE has so far electrified 140 remote villages across the country.
Despite solar-electricity, Shinnyu living in ‘darkness’
Meanwhile, Kossan told EastMojo that households that have access to solar-powered lights will be collecting every month to pay for the light connection. “We will be creating a bank account and will contribute Rs 100 every month. Besides this payment, we do not have anything to give them,” he said.
But despite the electrification of the village with solar lights, Kossan said that the village is still in “darkness” in the sense that it is ignorant about happenings outside of the village. “If someone does not guide us or what will be good for us to move ahead, we don’t know what we should do,” he said.
Kossan then added saying, “We don’t understand many things, so we are just living like this in darkness”.
John Kangnyu shared that there are 78 students in the lone school, which caters up to class-III. After primary classes, the village students have to go to schools outside the village, mostly in Tobu. He said so far, only one student from the village had passed matriculation. Three more are preparing for the board exam.
Such tough circumstances explain partly why there was so much joy when Shinnyu finally ‘lit’ up. In a video which John shared with EastMojo, residents were seen and heard celebrating by clapping, shouting and banging utensils as the solar-power bulbs came to life. The residents also held celebrations in the village, clad in Konyak traditional attires, singing and dancing to celebrate the moment.