Whilst working for NRG Solutions in Phnom Penh I was given the opportunity to visit the Global Village Housing Project site. http://www.globalvillagehousing.com/ This Australian run initiative provides affordable housing to some of Phnom Penh's poorest families.
The families live in a large landfill on the outskirts of the city. They forage through the rubbish and make a meager living selling valuables they find. Recently the landfill has been decommissioned so trucks don't bring the rubbish that these people rely on, rendering them even poorer than before.
The Global Housing Village system raises money in a similar fashion to the TOMS Buy One, Donate One Shoes sceme http://www.toms.com/ Essentially how it works is someone buys a new house in America and a small percentage of the of that money is used to build a house in Cambodia. The houses cost around $1500USD to build, a small amount in comparison to the cost to buy a new house in America. The sceme then employs personal from the landfill community to build the houses.
These are the houses and some of the people living there.
Our connection to the village was made because NRG supplies the solar systems that provide lighting for the houses.
Even though the landfill is decommissioned, the first thing that struck me whilst driving to the village was the amount of rubbish about. A thick blanket of plastic and paper covered nearly every available section of floor space. A lot of people were rummaging through the litter trying to squeeze out the last valuables from this dead resource.
We drove into the village area and were instantly greeted by a swarm of toddlers waving and screaming "Hello, Hello" through huge smiles filled with rotten teeth. Two of the bravest quickly clung onto my calves and sat on my feet insinuating they wanted to go for a ride on my hairy white legs. Amidst plenty of laughs and smiles I stomped around the yard with these two clinging to my legs with a vice-like grip.
All the children were covered in a think layer of dust and most were only half clothed, but they had the raddest hairstyles. Plenty of mullets, rats tails and Mohawks with splashes of belch thrown in there where ever they could.
We had a look around and fixed the system that wasn't working (the power switch was turned off haha). We talked to the woman and they said they were very happy with the solar systems NRG had provided. Due to the abundance of sunlight and the high efficiency of the LED bulbs they have unlimited free lighting.
Inside they have 2 of these lights and the battery shown here in the orange box.
Daniel and I outside one of the houses. You can see a solar light at the top. They can leave this light on all night for security purposes.
This little dude was hanging out in one of the pots they use to collect rainwater off the roofs. As you can see it hadn't rained here in a while.
When I'm sitting at a desk designing systems one thinks of them as a technical collaboration of figures and specifications, not their use or impact. It was very uplifting to see how the systems actually benefit the users quality of life. I (we) take electricity for granted in NZ and it was humbling to see how much of a positive impact a few lights can make. The system allows the users to cook/work/study at night, provide 24hr care to sick individuals, comfort children who are scared of the dark and security lighting at night.
Daniel told me a shocking story about one of NRG's clients. It concerns a lady who voluntarily provided care and accommodation for abandoned children. The children in her care had been abandoned because they had HIV. When asked what she thought of her solar lighting system she replied - " It's really helping us. Now that we can keep a security light on all night, the children are getting raped less"
A very disturbing thought.