Solar-powered schools built -- for cheap -- in remote Pakistan

By A B Arisar   |   Sept. 22, 2015 at 6:00 AM
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UMERKOT, Pakistan, Sept. 22 (News Lens Pakistan) -- Building roads, electrical grids and even schools can be so costly in Pakistan's Thar Desert, a remote area of scattered settlements, that they often just don't get done.

But the one thing this arid region does have is plenty of sunny days.

With that in mind, a collection of non-governmental organizations has joined the government to introduce solar power into the schools – only about 4 percent of which have electricity.

So far, 14 green schools have been built, and eight more are planned. There is enough solar energy to run the fans and computers.

Moreover, the students have been provided with rechargeable lights that can be charged during school and then can illuminate homes after sunset in the deep desert – ensuring they have light to do their homework.

"Due to sandy tracks and far-flung areas, not having grid-connected electricity and resources, it was difficult to provide a better environment to children in these schools," Ali Akbar Rahimoo, executive director of the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy, told News Lens Pakistan.

"Solar-powered water pumps have also been installed on dug wells to haul water from the depth of 300 feet, which have provided water for sanitation, hygiene and growing trees," he said. "This model has proved a ray of hope for marginalized people that their children can get a quality education and pave the way for a better future."

These green schools are also much cheaper, costing $1,000 to build compared to $7,000 for conventional buildings. The costs, so far, have been paid by local and international aid agencies.

"This is an environment-friendly and sustainable model to educate children in remote areas in Thar, as well as other arid and semi-arid areas of Sindh, Balochistan and other provinces of Pakistan," Manoj Kumar, a project officer with AWARE, told News Lens Pakistan, adding that this is the first time many of these students have been inside a classroom.

"Before, the government schools had no buildings, no classrooms and no toilets, especially for girls," he continued. "Summers and winter were hard on them."

Sallah Dars of Tar Dos village praised the new schools for giving students their first glimpse of a computer and access to clean water.

"It is like a miracle for poor parents," Dars told News Lens Pakistan.

Saudullah Dars, a primary school teacher in the government-run Ilyas Dars Mohla Tar Dos primary school, said the green schools have some of the best facilities he had seen, including flush toilets, a playground, library and meeting rooms for community activities.

They have proven popular, with enrollment that started at 48 in one of the green schools growing to around 131.

Students also praised their new school, with Nehal Dars, a 9-year-old student, calling it a sea change from when she was forced to study outdoors, sitting on the ground in the scorching sun and often being bitten by insects.

The schools have even made some government officials a little jealous.

"I was very surprised by the teaching and learning environment," Aijaz Babur, the district education officer in Tharparkar, said after visiting several green schools.

"There is no concept to have computers, libraries and other activities in Thari schools," he said, of the government facilities, only 4 percent which have electricity and less than 20 percent even have running water. "I wish government schools could be developed like this."

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