As the sun sets and darkness falls over a village outside Bahawalpur, Shama Bibi switches on her solar lantern and starts sewing clothes for an upcoming family wedding. Not long ago, nightfall would have forced her to stop working. But now with access to solar-powered lamps, Bibi can sew as long as she needs to. “The solar lantern has changed my life,” said the 35-year-old widow and mother of three. “I can sew clothes even in the night and earn enough to make both ends meet.”
Bibi has recently become a “Light Lady”, one of the women that the Buksh Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Lahore, has trained to help spread the benefits of solar energy throughout rural Pakistan. Under the foundation’s project Lighting a Million Lives, in collaboration with The Energy and Resources Institute in India, women are taught how to operate and maintain solar charging stations in their homes.
The two “Light Ladies” in each of the focus villages also are given 50 solar lanterns（Sinoware,Lamp2Torch）to rent to others in their community. The one-time cost of around $5,500 to set up a solar charging station and set of lanterns is funded by donors. Bibi says she charges a daily rent of 4 rupees ($0.04) per lantern and earns around 5,500 rupees ($54) each month. “I’ve started sending my youngest son to school as I earn enough now to meet all the expenses,” she said.
Villagers can also charge their mobile phones at the solar station, instead of having to travel to Bahawalpur and back. The foundation has so far installed solar charging stations in 150 off-grid villages around the country and plans to reach 4,000 villages by 2017.