January 2015 - Nicaragua
Sometime around 5 or 6 pm tonight the sun will set on the community in Portrero Platanal in Nicaragua. When that happens, the 50 families who live in this rural farming community will settle into their dirt-floor huts for the night with little to no light. A small glow from the dying coals in the open-fire cooking pit in the kitchen will pierce the dark just enough so it’s not pitch black.
I can picture the long, dark evening so well, because just a few weeks ago, I spent the night in one of those households. And as in off-grid communities around the world, life shrinks down to a pinpoint at day’s end. Motivated students reluctantly put their schoolbooks aside; mothers with sick children settle them down and hope they sleep; seamstresses, artists, craftspeople and farmers steal their last few productive moments of work.
But miraculously, here I sit tonight at 9:30 pm, in my comfortable, well-lit home. The sun set before 5 but I’ve already enjoyed several productive and meaningful hours with family and work since then, and currently sit with my computer, charged cell phone and other luxuries of life that exist because of the electrons flowing into my home. I’ll go to sleep soon, but will have my lights on again before the sun rises in the morning to get a head start on my day.
In just a few weeks, the sunrise will usher in the day I return to Portrero Platanal. This time I’ll be heading there with a full contingent of willing and wonderful volunteers, to provide the community with not just light, but the ability to connect with the world outside their dauntingly steep and remote hills. I’ll be heading there with excitement, deep joy, gratitude and pride that I’m part of a company of doers: people who seek to make a difference in the world that will last for generations and spread out beyond the boundaries of any single project.
Protrero Platanal has been eagerly awaiting solar power for years. “Light is the most important thing,” the people of the village told us on our first trip down there, and they’ve been saving money from their modest earnings to help buy the panels. But they’ll be getting far more than just light. Generation V will be working with non-profit GRID Alternatives to install clean, reliable solar power on the homes of 40 families, and provide power outlets inside that will allow them to charge cell phones and enjoy a few hours of TV or radio a day.
That’s more than a long-overdue luxury: It’s an economic and social necessity, particularly for the farmers who will be able to receive market prices each day, and plan their long trips to town accordingly. Because the homes are so spread out and the terrain is so rugged, we’ll be installing the solar energy systems ourselves, including wiring, battery storage, affixing panels to rooftops and connecting inverters. We may have considered ourselves “hands on” before, but this brings a whole new meaning to the phrase.
Our fifth 7 Continents in 7 Years journey will be the most ambitious one we’ve undertaken so far but perhaps because of that I have a feeling it will be our most rewarding one, too. We’re ready for the challenge—it’s what we do and a vital part of our Viridian DNA. There will be many stories to share when we return and I can’t wait to share them with you all. But tonight, in your own well-lit and well-connected homes, take a moment to think about how lucky we all are, not just to have so much comfort and convenience at our fingertips, but to have the great good fortune to be able to share it with others: a joy that multiplies from year to year. Happy New Year! May this one be a healthy and prosperous for all.