Our Internet-based map was no longer calibrating correctly from the time we reached the foot of the mountain; coverage was already unstable. So we pulled out the paper maps that we had so diligently packed particularly in times like this, and realized that it would take an hour or two more before we reach that small village in Southeast Asia.
Good thing all seven of us stretched before attempting this feat. My mother would have had done the same when she went to the same place 10 years ago. I was only eight then, so I could be excused for not being able to understand the purpose of her visit to that small village. She never told me anything vital anyway; all she said was that she would be talking to someone "so happy". As a young girl, my idea of happiness was limited within the confines of a paper-house, with surprises inside, known to me and my contemporaries as a fast-food kid's meal. It was only when I was 12 that I learned that she interviewed a local woman named Ma Mya.
I was cleaning up her closet to find clothes or shoes we could donate when I saw a purple box sitting on the top-most rack. When I opened it, I saw a pile of newspaper and magazine clippings, maybe two hundred or more, that my mom had collected over the period when she was working as a freelance journalist. I browsed them one by one, only staring at the pictures, of course: Ladies in their wedding gowns, a plate of spaghetti, a gondolier standing on the edge of a gondola, my mom posing as if she were holding the Eiffel Tower, a lady in her late fifties holding a light bulb.
The last picture caught my attention; I gently pulled it out from the bunch: “I Am So Happy I Felt Like Dancing”. It was a free-wheeling conversation with Ma Mya, a Southeast Asian woman who, at that time, was to experience having electricity in their home for the first time in 58 years.
“I never thought electricity can make such a big difference in my life,” said Ma Mya. “I thought I would die without seeing another form of light besides fire.”
“When they told me I can already connect the plug I was holding to the socket they installed on our wall, I was scared. I do not know what it will do; I was afraid it will explode and burn my face. When I did it, it felt like magic. I have never seen a series of colored bulbs light up my house. I was so happy I felt like dancing. Candles cannot do that.”
“I realized that electricity could do more than just to illuminate. Our husbands are finally freed from the task of gathering firewood and water, and are now able to work for a living. Thanks to having light at night, we are also able to work on the beaded necklaces we sell at the market even after the sun had set. We almost doubled our revenues that way. In fact, we used the extra money we had in the previous two months to buy electric stoves and a small TV set we stationed at the village hall.”
“Before, when it was already dark, we had nothing to do but sit under our houses and chat. Sometimes, we could not even recognize whom we are talking to. Now, we can talk outside our houses, cook together, share our food and talk again over dinner! Our lives have completely changed.”
Unfortunately, Ma Mya’s village was razed to the ground during a stand-off, and with it came the power infrastructure.
After an hour and a half of trekking on uneven terrain, we finally reached Ma Mya’s village. We arrived at about 11:00 AM, and at this time, almost all of the village’s women were gathered under a sizable make-shift hut to make beaded accessories that they would sell at the central market.
“We came to bring you more beads. We also brought solar lamps, so you can go on and work even at night,” I said to a woman who unmistakably was Ma Mya. She laid the unfinished necklace on the table, stood from the stool, and approached me. “You heard our call,” she said.
“I never thought we would be living without electricity again,” said Ma Mya, who was noticeably sad but not exactly on the verge of tears. “I lived for 58 years without electricity, and have only experienced it for nine, but I never realized the important role it had come to play in my life and in my community. We are back to living like the old days. Our productivity is once again limited by the hours of sunlight, our husbands are again busy gathering firewood and clean water instead of earning a living, we are inside our huts again when it turns dark.”
Through our conversation, I learned that my mother left her our home telephone number so that when telecommunications services were already available in her village, she would call her and share with her more inspiring stories on how her life was constantly changing. “I made a call to her once, maybe twice, I don’t remember, but the last time I called, it was left unanswered. From then on, I never made any other calls anymore. When our village was destroyed, I asked my eldest to phone her number and inform her of the disaster that struck us.”
I answered that call.
Upon learning from her eldest about what happened, I immediately called upon my friends and colleagues to help me raise funds to purchase some relief and livelihood items. I knew that the primary business in their village was making beaded accessories, so we sourced raw materials that could last for a good half a year. I also learned that being able to work even at night had a notable economic impact on their income as a village, so we approached sustainable lighting companies for assistance, and they agreed to donate 10 units.
There is just so much that we can do to alleviate their situation. We can bring them all the materials they need to make beaded accessories, and even a hundred solar lamps, but that will still not be enough. Those cannot match the freedom, the comfort and the fulfillment that electrical power has brought to their village before it was destroyed. What Ma Mya’s village needs is electricity, and they need it immediately. For nine years that they had electrical energy, they were able to build a sustainable source of revenue, the men were able to find productive work, the women and children felt safer and the village was connected to the rest of the world. In barely a year without power, all that the village had achieved were gone. They are back to living like before, and, if the words of Ma Mya hold truth, they feel crippled.
Temporary power plants can provide the solution, now
Building a power plant and the necessary electricity infrastructure from nothing can be a daunting task. There are usually several entities involved in such a project, and getting them to work together and stay on the same page at times require intense coordination and constant follow-ups. Receiving funding from financial institutions, approval from regulatory entities, agreement from contractors, and endorsement from government agencies may take years, let alone the actual construction of the permanent power plant. As a result of this intricacy, the lead time to the actual powering on of the plant may take decades.
Unlike traditional power stations, temporary power plants are capable of providing electricity supply solutions in a matter of days. Due to their provisional nature, rental power plants can be built and powered on without constructing large-scale civil infrastructure, needing a huge capital or going through a labyrinth of regulatory and government approvals. They can be easily shipped from the provider’s yard to anywhere in the world, because they are modular and containerized. As soon as they land on the location, they can be swiftly connected and set up owing to their plug-and-play configuration and state-of-the art mobile power technologies. In a matter of days, from delivery to build up, the temporary power plant can be turned on and thus start providing electricity to a village, a city, a province or even to an entire country.
It was getting dark, and I was afraid we had to leave. Ma Mya’s neighbors tried to put on the solar lamps that we had brought, but their light was still dim. The village was noticeably gloomy, at times tensed from the uncertainty that the night once again held. “I will call again,” Ma Mya shouted, as we turned our backs to go on our way. “I know there will be better things to speak about, soon,” she said.
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