As the heat waves crash in through Bangladesh, so come in the frequent power outages. Despite the government’s multiple attempts to generate extra power for a bustling population, load shedding have become regular features of Bangladeshi lifestyle. While most of the middle and high classes tolerably live out these hourly sessions throughout the day with diesel generators and IPS systems, the case is far from the same for the poor.
For the poor in the capital city of Dhaka, life is lived in two ‘addresses’: the slums or the footpath. The legality of slum settlements in and around the city is beyond the scope of this post, but their power concerns are not. Slums, such as the ones in Mirpur, are densely inhabited by 70.4% of the urban population and landlords devoid of empathy towards them continue to cramp them with more tin sheds. A logical consequence of this is the lack of daylight falling in to many of these areas- and the extension of illegal power lines to nearby electricity poles. According to statistics collected by the Dhaka Energy Supply Authority (DESA), this exercise alone misappropriates 275MW of generated electricity annually.
Sajid Iqbal, a fourth year Environmental Management student from North South University, offers some respite. Sajid makes weekly door-to-door visits to citywide slums with a solution and an interesting choice of materials in his bag: small pieces of corrugated tin sheets, cutters, rebids, pudding and… 2 liter PET bottles.
His solution: Botol Bati (Literally translation being, ‘Bottled Light’). It’s better known as Environmentally Sustainable Solar Light (ESBL).
The literal translation would leave most mildly amused (what’s next, ‘bottled air’?), but you will be surprised that this in fact a tried and tested technique. A wild success in squatter settlements in the Philippines, Sajid mentions that he came across this through a YouTube link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R83yYEIbFT0) while researching for a class project. However, it was his initiative to take this concept outside his air-conditioned class to Dhaka’s slums, and this has earned him attention and incredible amounts of support.
“Take a tin frame, and make a small hole in it where you have to fit the bottle. One-third of the bottle will be exposed outside; while two-thirds will be inside the house. The bottle will be filled with water. Place the sheet with the bottle on the tin roof of the house, and rebid the sheet with the tin roof. Then place pudding around the bottle and the sheet, so that when it rains, water does not go inside the house. If it was just a hole to let light inside the house, then the light will only fall in one direction. Using the bottle in this case will allow light to enter the bottle and reflect all around inside the house due to the water inside the bottle. The bottle does not need to be replaced for one to one and a half years. One bottle produces light equivalent to a 55W power bulb,” explains Sajid enthusiastically.
To further his initiative, Sajid then listed the support of his electrician friend, Al-Mamun. Mamun, with his technical prowess, learnt the model quickly and was able to implement it efficiently in areas with Sajid on his trips. Mohammad Maksud, a Mirpur slum resident, was brought in by Sajid later on and was educated on the model too. Besides constructing Batis, Maksud was actively involved in creating awareness of the misuse of power during daytime and helped the duo convince other residents in adopting such a green solution.
As far as financing is concerned, Sajid and Mamun are main contributors to the project. Their fencing coach, Sohel Rana, came in on later with more and increased word of mouth for the cause. However, what really let Sajid gain more traction was his decision to enter the Botol Bati model in the South Asian Youth Society (SAYS) 2012 competition organized by the US Embassy. His proposal to scale the concept into a social business earned him second prize and has attracted international attention. As of this writing, Sajid is busy preparing for deploying the model in association with SAYS’s Nepalese chapter in select areas of Kathmandu.
Of course, Sajid’s story- like most social entrepreneurs’- is not without its fair share of challenges. The biggest challenge he has faced is getting slum residents to switch. They use the ESBL’s most significant hindrance: its complete insignificance at night- when no power entails larger problems than just illumination, against him. The second is the habit and the consequent attraction residents have towards ‘real’ light bulbs.
Following up with Sajid, yours truly collected this human interest story. Shabana lives in a small house in the slum with her son Shoheb, who studies in class 1 at a nearby school. Shabana makes saris for a living and is also a cook at a mess. Since daylight never reached her home, she used to make saris using bulbs, candles or hurricane lamps during the day. After installing the Botol Bati, she does not feel the need to switch on the bulb during the day time, nor spend extra money behind candles and lamps anymore to work on her saris and her economic mean to support her family.
It is stories like these that inspire people who take a long and sincere look around them and tackle challenges with the most modest of means. Most self-styled entrepreneurs today are more inclined towards soliciting resources to deploy a flawed idea, whereas innovative individuals such as Sajid are happy to pursue a mission as long as its within his own talents alone. Taking an idea that revolves around the themes of environment-friendliness, sustainability and an effective business venture, Botol Bati is the story of a video link’s inspiration to the development of a potential society-conscious model entrepreneur.
SOURCES: The Daily Star, YouTube, Personal Interviews
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