In a remote village on southern Mexico’s Pacific coast, 62-year-old fisherman Jose Barriento relaxed on a rope hammock after dinner in a darkened room with bare cinder-block walls and a corrugated metal roof. The only light was from the flickering screen of a television set — a luxury that was impossible in this community until his wife, Norma Guerra, became a “Solar Mama.”
Barriento and Guerra are lifelong residents of Cachimbo, a tattered town of about 150 people on a barrier island in Oaxaca state with lots of palm trees, few roads and infrequent rainfall. There also wasn’t any electricity, so everyone used candles or kerosene lamps. Guerra, 52, stopped going to school after fourth grade and spends most days helping her husband prepare and sell fish that, in a good week, can fetch 3,000 pesos ($160).
But in 2014, Cachimbo took a small step toward modernity. Under a quirky program designed to empower poor rural communities around the world, Guerra and three other local women went to India for six months to be trained as electrical technicians. They returned to install dozens of solar panels, battery packs and wiring that now run lights and appliances all over the village.
“Cachimbo was difficult, ugly and always dark,” Guerra said as she sat on a green plastic chair under the palm-thatched roof of her patio. “Just walking around town you risked falling. With the solar kits, a lot has changed. You can go to bed later. Kids can do their homework at night. For the women, it allows us to do our chores in the home while men continue their labors. Everything is easier now that there is illumination.”
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