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Sunday, October 28, 2012

‘Bulbs in a bottle’ movement to light up shanties in town

    Ten years after the light was first shown on the idea of the bottle bulb, the first batch of these 'lights' will be installed in the Mumbai slums. This week, students from the University of St Gallen, Switzerland, and St Xavier's College, Mumbai, will come together to plant the first seeds of an international grassroots movement in power-starved India. 

    In 2002, Alfredo Moser, a mechanic in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where power outages are a regular feature, realized that a plastic bottle full of water, when teamed with sunlight, could light up his dark atelier. For developing and under-developed nations of the world, the discovery of the bottle bulb, also known as the solar water bulb or water bulb, was nothing short of a 'eureka' moment. 
    Without doubt one of the most cost-ef
ficient and green ways to light up a space, the bottle bulb requires a one-litre plastic bottle full of water, bleach to keep the water from growing green and a good-quality adhesive. The bottle full of water should be stuck into the roof in a manner such that the top half of the bottle is exposed to the sun and the bottom half is in the room underneath. When the water in the bottle above the roof catches the sun, it lights up the room underneath like a 55-watt bulb. 
    Moser's invention was taken up by his neighbours, but according to Geraldine Lüdi of Liter of Light Switzerland, the idea's breakthrough came about only last year when Illac Diaz installed the first bottles in the slum of Philippines. "The Strategy International Management (SIM) students from The University St. Gallen heard about this idea and founded Liter of Light Switzerland (today Liter of Light Europe) in November 2011," she says. 
"The idea is to evolve a worldwide movement, spread the word about Liter of Light and illuminate millions of homes." 
    A Filipino entrepreneur, the work of Diaz, who spearheaded the Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light) campaign, caught the attention of four college stu
dents in Mumbai. "A friend showed me a demonstration video and I, in turn, shared it with three other friends. We were all immediately taken by it and decided to start work in Mumbai's slums. Our project is called Jal Jyoti: Lighting lives, One litre at a time. We're really fortunate that Liter of Light Switzerland announced its decision to visit Mumbai around the same time we started our groundwork," explains Sanjna Malpani of Jal Jyoti. 
    Since the 'technology' is as simple as it is, there are several pioneer projects which have evolved independently in places like Egypt and Peru. Networking platforms and the like are a great asset. Facebook, for instance, enables the various chapters to exchange information, complications, ideas and so on. 
    Malpani adds, "We plan to use the Swiss chapter's expertise and technical know-how to advantage while providing them with an inlet into the city's slums as also helping them access recycled bottles, materials and so on. We also plan to conduct a workshop in St Xavier's College on October 29 to teach more students interested in Jal Jyoti how to make these bottles 
as well as carry out actual fieldwork to install them." The two groups will be working through this week in the slums at Backbay Depot, Cuffe Parade and Antop Hill. 
    Lüdi concludes, "We see ourselves primarily as incubators, hence apart from installing bottles we work towards making the project self-sustaining. We do not want the project to crash when we leave; a local base is really important to establishing a grass-roots movement. 
    "We are in close contact with the students from St Xavier's College. Together, we are working on the logistics, where they are a great help; we, on our part, are providing them with our expertise and experience so that they can take over when we leave. We are also in touch with NGOs such as IKYA Global Foundation (IGF) and Teach for India, which are helping us reach out to the slums."

ILLUMINATING IDEAS: A group of students will bring the movement to Mumbai's slums this week

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