Under the cover of night, there is nothing stronger than a woman's commitment to her family. So much so, as there are no other options, a mother considers the following: to burn kerosene without the use of a chimney flue to properly vent the smoke or wood at the expense of intaking harmful creosote. Energy poverty, even in today's climate, still affects families and specifically, women and children. However, there are some like Ceciliana who imagined a better solution.
A modern-day proletariat within Suembem, a remote village found in the countryside of West Timor, this 35-year-old would go on to be a proprietor, who helped to bring low-income households out of the dark. They call her Mama, not because she is a mother to three, but because she brought with her light. It was a prefix befitting any Mother of Light, in part because she was one—one of the 186 mothers actively selling solar lamps in Indonesia.
Following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which moved inland on northern Sumatra, and left the state of Aceh, more or less, destroyed, a young man named Fairoz Ahmad was inspired by the people’s resourceful-ness later went on to start Chapter W, and the Mother of Light program.“Why treat the rural poor as passive recipients of aid when they can be so much more than that?” said Ahmad, then an undergraduate, witnessing first-hand the failures of an outsourced humanitarian model.
Unlike the throng of rowhouses which occupy first-world subdivisions, Seumbem, Oeleon, and the other vil-lages—stretching as far out to Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, and back to Kefamenanu—were built with palms boughs and dried grass, and a sense of tradition that wasn't malleable in the slightest. Unlike their entrepreneurial grit, of course, which is viewed as an alternative.
According to a study commissioned on behalf of the European Parliament's Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, “barriers to energy access are linked to poor infrastructure and low-incomes.” As a result, some households are unable to meet adequate living conditions; to the point where 1 in 4 Indonesians is left without access to electricity. Despite their unfortunate circumstance, a growing number of entrepreneurial interests amongst rural women is looking to change that, said Ahmad, adding, that they want a solution outside the realm of aid—something long-lasting, like a job.
In a move to adopt a bottom-up approach, in which he explains will empower the social sector, the non-profit expanded into Chapter W, an organization aimed at equipping community-led initiatives with women at the forefront. These women are called Mothers of Light. It's egalitarian in thought, but the goal was simple: since women invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, as opposed to their male counterpart, who shared only 35 percent, supporting women would mean supporting stronger families.
Chapter W doesn't consider itself to be an external charity, but rather a facilitator. As an entrepreneurship and empowerment training program created in tan-dem with the idea that these women could make money through the use of solar lamps, or related skills like goal setting, communication skills, et cetera, Mothers of Light follows a series of steps designed around an asset-based community development approach.
Over the course of a six-month period, assets within a community, many of whom have some skill or interest to start a business, but have never had the opportunity, would undergo a 10 day training program, frequented by phone calls, onsite check-ins and refresher training every 2 to 3 months. The 10 day training program then culminates with graduation and the ‘ business in a bag.’
The business in a bag is a start-up kit designed around a consignment model. It introduces five pieces of solar lamps on loan as start-up capital, including brochures, an official Mothers of Light program t-shirt, and name cards to give out to prospective customers. Without any initial commitments, the products are paid for by way of the sales generated through micro installments. Once the lamps are paid for, they can last up to 5 years.
Beyond teaching women about financial literacy, supply chain management and how to establish a social enterprise, it goes on to solve other issues that were previously left outstanding. It has improved the quality of life, providing an external light source to areas that had been lacking this resource. As well, the purchasing of fuel has gone down, reducing carbon emission by 1595.48 tons. The program also closes the gender gap, where women like Ceciliana, previously a full-time housewife, are now able to help their husbands cover household costs.
The women of Mothers of Light are bringing solutions to everyday problems, some requiring a solar lamp for household chores, others to combats the qualms of night. Whether it be as a housewife or another role, they were by extension, women entrepreneurs, as Ceciliana proclaims it, and definitely within her right.
This article was first published in the 11th edition of the PWB Magazine, on sale now.