* Date : 2016-12-28
Poverty-stricken Laos faces energy inequality
Situated almost entirely within the lower Mekong River basin, Laos is still an economically underdeveloped country. Its location is favorable for waterpower generation, and with 95% of its generated power being exported, electricity is the country’s 2nd largest export item. However, local communities are struggling with lack of electricity. Even if a village has access to electricity, it’s difficult for its residents with low income to pay for it.
Situations are worse for schools in mountain communities. It is expensive to install power systems and parents are responsible for paying electric bills. And because of this, students must study in dark classrooms before sunset. Electricity is relevant to these students’ right to education and this is directly related to the future of Laos. Its future is being threatened due to energy inequality.
Yee-Young Ran delivers sunshine through adversities
Yee Young-ran works in one of the country's low income areas called Xayaboury. To be exact, she is the director of the Lao Renewable Assistance Center established by Energy and Climate Policy Institute (ECPI).
Yee Young-ran first came to Laos in 2007 as a volunteer. After her 2-year service at a middle school, she was introduced to another school located in a remote mountain village. When she saw the school, she realized how important it was for a school to have electricity as it did desks and books. How can this poor village have access to affordable, lasting energy? After pondering for a long time, Young-ran realized that she could install solar power generators. And the Lao Renewable Energy Center was established.
Establishing the secondary energy self-sufficient village
On November 18, 2016, a project to install solar power generators at Xayaboury mountain villages began. A total of 4 vehicles loaded with solar panels, installation tools, and technicians and students set off on their journey. The road condition was bad due to the recent rainstorm. On their way to Pakhao, one of their trucks became stuck in mud. But instead of giving up, the group took a boat into the village to gift 13 families with electricity.
The volunteer group's work did not stop there. They established Village Energy Committee (VEC) and taught people how to maintain the solar power generators themselves. This is their way of helping people become self-sufficient.
Twenty-one year youth Vanhnalet's dream of becoming energy self-sufficient
Xayaboury Vocational School has a department of solar energy. It was created to nurture professionals who can maintain and repair solar power generators. Often, it takes a long time to visit mountain communities and on rainy days, accessing those villages become impossible. Having local professionals make it possible to maintain and repair the generators fast. It also gives people continuous access to electricity even after Korean volunteers’ departure. Yee Young-ran’s idea of foreign aid is different. Her aid does not stop at one-time help. She helps people become self-sufficient.
Vanhnalet was the first student to complete the education project. He is ECPI's only Laotian employee and he also works as an assistant professor at the Xayaboury Vocational School. Over the past 4 years, they successfully helped 5 students become professional technicians. Now, Vanhnalet is an essential part of Laos’ renewable energy project.