fbpx
Request for Expressions of Interest (Individual Consultants)
December 14, 2023
Ministry of Health and Wellness introduces the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine
December 14, 2023

Electricity Brings Maya Communities to New Life

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2023. 8:44 am CST.

Contributed: Can you imagine what life would be without electricity?  This is a challenging reality for many villages in Belize’s southernmost district, Toledo. Through a European Union initiative in support of rural electrification, targeted indigenous communities are now able to access electricity. LED bulbs light up the homes of more than 150 families, transforming the community life of Oxtoha, San Lucas, and Mabil Ha.

The villages beyond Punta Gorda are worlds away – both from each other and from the rest of the country. Our journey to Mabil Ha is long and arduous, driving from Toledo’s largest settlement, Punta Gorda, to Mafredi. This small community sits where Belize’s Southern Highway diverges into roads leading west and south. Heading southwards from Mafredi, the smoothly paved highway becomes a rough, rocky road hugged on both sides by dense greenery.

After a lengthened, bumpy journey, the thick forest gives way to farmlands peppered with thatch-roofed homes, and the once seemingly still roadway comes to life. Pigs and chickens roam around, and an occasional villager passes by on a motorbike, leaving a trail of dust in his wake. Heading south to the country’s border with Guatemala, the village of Blue Creek is the first in a long line of communities that Belize’s Mopan and Q’eqchi Maya call home. 

Finally, a solitary sign bids welcome to our destination – Mabil Ha, home to about fifty families.  

Visitors to Mabil Ha will make note of the many small solar panels that stand out against the thatched roofing of homes. It is the first evidence of the small but impactful changes that have been taking place in the traditional Maya village since the start of the EU-funded SOLAR Southern Belize project in partnership with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Humana People to People Belize in February 2022.

We are invited to visit Edwardo Cahabom, a proud Mabil Ha farmer, at home. According to him, going from using gas lamps and candles to get around to having constant electricity has significantly changed his and his family’s everyday life as well as the lives of all those in Mabil Ha.

“It is beneficial for the children,” says Edwardo. “The things that they’ve had to go through like doing homework in the dark…the new device has been really impactful on that.”  

Now, the children of the village study in the evening with the help of three 5W energy-saving LED bulbs, allowing them to read and write without straining their eyes as they often had to do with kerosene gas lamps and surrounding darkness.  

For Edwardo, the additional light has also helped reduce the hazards one faces in a remote village encircled by nature. He tells us that one night, his uncle had a scare when he encountered a venomous snake perched at his front door. He hadn’t noticed it immediately, since there was no light. 

The access to basic electricity and all its benefits is being provided through the use of devices known as Pico-solar units. They are small devices, but they have a notably large impact as they allow one to connect three LED bulbs and to charge a cell phone. The device also includes a radio, which is of great value in remote areas where radio is often the main source of information.

While the implementation of the units may sound like an easy feat, as always, community work is vital for a successful project, as underscored by Elizabeth Muschamp, Humana People to People Belize Project Manager, when explaining describes the preparation of the consultation with the villagers: “We visited every house to explain to every family the benefits of the pico-solar devices and how to use them to get the best results. In the beginning, many community members had doubts about the device, but nowadays they are more than happy with the benefits that brought this even minimal access to electricity.”

Even though the provided electricity is limited at the moment, it is a vital improvement to the living conditions of the families. 

 “Before the units, it was hard for us. Now that we have the devices, it has benefited us both in the kitchen and with our children when it comes to their schoolwork. It’s brighter now, so I can do my chores in the kitchen, and the kids can do their work in the evening,” says one villager, Sebastiana, in Q’eqchi Maya.  

Sebastiana’s husband switches the light on in the small shop attached to their home as the family prepares to serve a customer. 

For the women of the village, like Sebastiana, having lights makes it much easier to move around in the evening, and their sense of safety has increased significantly.

The European Union-supported initiative also includes another vital component for community development. In each village, the project saw the installation of a larger solar-powered system that community members use for their small businesses. In Mabil Ha, one group of farmers, which Edwardo is a part of, has improved their already existing commerce, the Maya Enterprise Meat Products Ltd. 

With the business able to get electricity from the new solar-powered system, the entrepreneurs can keep meat, ice, and other products refrigerated for an extended period. Before, Maya Enterprise had to sell the meat immediately since they had no means of cooling it. Any meat that they produced and did not manage to sell on time meant a huge financial loss for the enterprise. Now that their products are properly stored, however, the group members can bring them to the market in Punta Gorda, as well as do deliveries to the neighbouring communities, boosting the enterprise’s revenue and the community’s economic growth.

The villagers are convinced about the benefits of solar energy provided by the larger plant and the tiny devices that help bridge their access to electricity. Community members tell us that they are already saving for a new device they could buy at any warehouse at a reasonable price if a pico-solar unit gets broken. Nevertheless, more than ever, communities dream of getting access to full electricity. This would allow the families to connect more appliances at once such as a refrigerator, a fan, and a washing machine and get sufficient lighting. Access to electricity is key for these remote communities to achieve their full socio-economic development potential.

The EU is supporting Belize to improve access to modern and sustainable energy and ensure services in rural areas; enhance energy sector governance and institutional capacity; and promote renewable energy development and energy efficiency. Mirco Schröder, Programme Manager of the European Union Delegation to Belize, says that the SOLAR Southern Belize project is part of a broader initiative that the Ministry of Energy, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), and the European Union have implemented together since 2022. “The EU-funded Sustainable Energy Roadmap Belize Programme aims to give access to clean electricity to all Belizeans, especially to the families that live in remote areas. The project will install solar-powered mini-grids that provide electricity to five villages in the south and north of the country. The programme supports Belize’s transition from a fossil fuel-driven economy towards a green, sustainable model in the next 20 years.” 

As we get ready to hit the road to return north, it starts drizzling outside. We wave goodbye and the lights go on as Sebastiana and her family gather around the traditional Maya cooking stove to start preparations for the evening meal. 

 

Advertise with the mоѕt vіѕіtеd nеwѕ ѕіtе іn Belize ~ We offer fully customizable and flexible digital marketing packages. Your content is delivered instantly to thousands of users in Belize and abroad! Contact us at mаrkеtіng@brеаkіngbеlіzеnеwѕ.соm or call us at 501-612-0315.

 

© 2023, BreakingBelizeNews.com. Content is copyrighted and requires written permission for reprinting in online or print media. Theft of content without permission/payment is punishable by law.

Comments