Ana Nantawi and Ketura Aparaka are two members of the Tepu community from an isolated indigenous village located in Southeast Suriname near the borders of Brazil and French Guiana. Two years ago, they journeyed to India to learn how to assemble, install, and repair solar panels. The two women were devoted to helping develop their village, which has been dependent on a Diesel generator for unsustainable and expensive electricity that doesn’t power much of the village, including the school and health center.
“We have lived in the dark for a long time”, explained Iwan Misika, a local teacher who commented on the challenges of teaching without electricity.
“In many ways, the village of Tepu has been left behind,” explained UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Armstrong Alexis. “As this is an isolated indigenous community, they have not necessarily enjoyed the benefits of development that the rest of the country has experienced. Their schools, healthcare, and energy supply are not as good as they are in other coastal communities in the country.”
Eager to make a difference, Ana and Ketura returned home with their newly acquired skills and training and were ready to help thrust Tepu forward by providing access to clean energy.
Unfortunately, due to insufficient funds, the town was unable to support the installation of the solar panels. Ana and Ketura were frustrated, fearing they might forget their new skills and know-how, and that their village would not be able to transition to a clean energy source.
Aiming to support the community and bring new partners together so Ana and Ketura could put their knowledge into practice, the project became the center of a multilateral partnership, made up of community members, the UNDP-Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership, the Suriname Government, and the Amazon Conservation Team. The new partnership enabled the needed support to bring solar energy to the Tepu community, a feat that would drastically change the future of the village, not only in terms of clean energy, but in many other aspects of life.
With support from the Electric Services Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources, this goal was made a reality. For the first time in history, Tepu had 24-hour electricity. This new system is projected to reduce green-house gas emissions by 25 tons a year, proving that Suriname is making significant strides towards the Sustainable Development Goal of Affordable and Clean Energy in the 2030 Agenda.
Along with this progress came many other indirect benefits that show the Tepu case should be considered in global discussions on development. What began as a project to create access to clean energy proved to have significant impacts on education, health-care, air quality, household and employment, entrepreneurship, and gender issues.
Iwan Misaka, the school teacher, explains that now his students can learn their lessons in the classroom, unburdened by the constant struggle of a power-less facility. And—he continued, with a big smile across his face—now the children can read a book after the sun goes down.
The electric grid also has enormous implications for the Tepu’s medical facility. Minu Parahoe, director of the Amazon Conservation Team, remarked that thanks to this project, they can store medicine in a refrigeration unit, and electricity at the clinic will benefit both the nurses and the patients.
The new solar grid will also improve access to information for the entire community. According to Sydney Harris, the Head of Electric Services Department at the Ministry of Natural Resources, it is necessary to get information from Paramaribo, the capital, and this will be possible now via television and news.
This initiative is also opening up a door for entrepreneurial activity in the community, by providing electricity to power small processing machines. For example, the local pepper mill previously used hand-operated coffee grinders. They can now use a pepper chopper to do this work more efficiently.
Now that Tepu has electricity, efforts are being made on a related project to provide clean drinking water to the community—which was one of the village’s main priorities.
Ana and Ketura have remained a crucial part of the project. They have now trained six other people in the maintenance and installation of the solar panels. They also helped to re-wire some houses in the village in order for them to accommodate the new solar-powered system. They say they are very proud of themselves, and they should be—they changed the lives of the Tepu villagers and kick-started a widely beneficial initiative in their remote indigenous village.