The Solar Project: Changing Lives One Community at a Time

Rachel building a solar electric system for her village

Photo Credit: Stephen Gold/WCN Solar Project

Life in the villages within the Torricelli Mountain Range of Papua New Guinea is immensely challenging. The area is remote, covered in dense forest, and the terrain is rugged and accessible only by foot. Papua New Guinea and its majestic mountains represent one of the few areas in the world that remains relatively untouched by human impacts. Illegal mining and logging, while a threat, have yet to encroach upon the region and most of the villages located at the foothills are extremely basic. 

Rachel and her family live in one such village. Home for them is a ramshackle bush hut with no electricity or plumbing. Rachel’s days are filled with intensive labor—cutting down wood and lugging the heavy bundles home to cook meals for her family, and trekking for miles to nearby rivers for water. Her callused palms and the age lines on her face speak of a life of hard work. All of this changed one afternoon when Jim Thomas, the director of the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA), and Stephen Gold, representing the Solar Project at the Wildlife Conservation Network, appeared in her village. 

The Tenkile Conservation Alliance—an organization that focuses on conserving the region’s critically endangered tree kangaroos—works closely with the 50 villages on the slopes of the Torricelli Mountain Range, including Rachel's. 

These lands—critical to the survival of the tree kangaroos—are owned by several different landowners from the range villages. TCA relies on their understanding of the area to help them conduct successful conservation work there. Conservationists from TCA have worked for years to build a rapport of trust and collaboration with representatives from each village. So, Rachel, a representative of her village, already knew Jim when he contacted her with a plan to help her secure a clean and steady source of electricity for her community, a solar electric system that they would help her build herself.

Having a solar electric system meant that the families in Rachel’s community would no longer have to trudge miles through the forest for firewood. Most importantly, they would no longer have to breathe the thick plumes of smoke that arose when using the wood to cook their meals in their tiny kitchens, that contained almost no ventilation, and caused them to become sick with smoke inhalation. 

Excited, she agreed to meet the two men in Lumi, a small village that's also home to the TCA headquarters, on the day the project was scheduled to take off. On the first day, she was one of the first representatives outside the Tenkile Conservation Alliance’s headquarters. Despite having no idea on how to put together a solar electric system, Rachel was ready. 

With Steve at the helm, guiding the village representatives through the ins and outs of building the systems, the team soon got busy. At the end of two days, 18 small solar electric systems had been assembled and were ready to be taken to the villages.

For Rachel, a woman with no formal education, creating a solar system from scratch was empowering. Hers was the first one to be installed, and even today, it’s changing the lives of people in her village. Rachel’s own status in her community has risen. Thanks to her efforts, women—who conduct most of the labor intensive work in her village—now have more time with their families, and lead healthier, easier lives.

Tenkile Conservation Alliance hopes to install another 250 solar units in collaboration with Stephen, so that each house within the 50 villages can enjoy the same benefits as Rachel and her community. Donate directly to Tenkile Conservation Alliance to support this project.

WCN supporter Stephen Gold is now entering his twelfth year of providing solar panels to wildlife conservationists out in the field. After attending the 2003 Wildlife Conservation Expo, Stephen felt inspired to connect his own work in the solar industry with wildlife conservation. To learn more about the Solar Project, visit our Solar Program page.

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