Project Chirag: Lighting up lives

Project Chirag: Lighting up lives

Four thousand seven hundred and counting, light has replaced darkness in these many rural homes, thanks to the efforts of Project Chirag.

Four thousand seven hundred and counting, light has replaced darkness in these many rural homes, thanks to the efforts of a group of students of a Mumbai college.

When you first see him, Khushaal Talreja is your average South Mumbai teenager. Coming from an affluent business family, the 19-year-old lives in the upmarket Kemps Corner in Mumbai. Like most kids his age, this Bachelors of Management Science student at HR College loves soccer, volleyball and of course, cricket. But while most of his friends pub-hop on weekends and special days, he village-hops to carry out god’s command–Let there be light.

Khushaal is among the 50-odd students of HR College in Churchgate in Mumbai who have made it their mission to light up India’s villages with solar lamps. Their ‘Project Chirag’ has succeeded in doing what the government has only been talking about doing so far—light up 4,726 homes in 120 villages across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. This March 12, the project completes three years.

All those aunties and uncles who tut-tut about the younger generation and its lack of sympathy and empathy have clearly not met this group. “If it is to be, it is up to me” is their simple motto, substantiated with action.

Sometime around January 2010, a group of students of the college happened to visit a village called Ujjaini in the Wada district of Maharashtra. For the students, it was an unpleasant surprise that the 90-home village that lies just three hours from the shimmering Mumbai had no electricity. The students returned to the city and blanked out their college lights in a campaign called ‘Missing for a mission’. They asked each student of the college for just 10 rupees-the price of a packet of crisps or a cola. Many obliged, and a week later, the campaign raised around 5 lakh. Enough to light up the 90 homes in Ujjaini and more.

The rest, as they say, is history.

With funds raised from banks, companies and individuals, the group has taken solar lamps to a number of villages. Last year, it managed to register itself as a non-governmental organisation, Chirag Rural Development Foundation.

“We chose solar lighting because it is affordable and eco-friendly,” says Khushaal. Project Chirag has even roped in the deaf-mute and the physically-disabled in its mission. Solar lamp and panel components are bought from private vendors and assembled by these people with disabilities.

“We install the panels and the lamps ourselves by going to the villages,” Khushaal says. This January, he was in Rajasthan, brightening up 683 homes across eight villages.

The students have tied up with several NGOs and students of other educational institutions in India and abroad. Over three years, the project has seen participation from more than 13,000 students.

 

Four thousand seven hundred and counting, light has replaced darkness in these many rural homes, thanks to the efforts of a group of students of a Mumbai college.

When you first see him, Khushaal Talreja is your average South Mumbai teenager. Coming from an affluent business family, the 19-year-old lives in the upmarket Kemps Corner in Mumbai. Like most kids his age, this Bachelors of Management Science student at HR College loves soccer, volleyball and of course, cricket. But while most of his friends pub-hop on weekends and special days, he village-hops to carry out god’s command–Let there be light.

Khushaal is among the 50-odd students of HR College in Churchgate in Mumbai who have made it their mission to light up India’s villages with solar lamps. Their ‘Project Chirag’ has succeeded in doing what the government has only been talking about doing so far—light up 4,726 homes in 120 villages across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. This March 12, the project completes three years.

All those aunties and uncles who tut-tut about the younger generation and its lack of sympathy and empathy have clearly not met this group. “If it is to be, it is up to me” is their simple motto, substantiated with action.

Sometime around January 2010, a group of students of the college happened to visit a village called Ujjaini in the Wada district of Maharashtra. For the students, it was an unpleasant surprise that the 90-home village that lies just three hours from the shimmering Mumbai had no electricity. The students returned to the city and blanked out their college lights in a campaign called ‘Missing for a mission’. They asked each student of the college for just 10 rupees-the price of a packet of crisps or a cola. Many obliged, and a week later, the campaign raised around 5 lakh. Enough to light up the 90 homes in Ujjaini and more.

The rest, as they say, is history.

With funds raised from banks, companies and individuals, the group has taken solar lamps to a number of villages. Last year, it managed to register itself as a non-governmental organisation, Chirag Rural Development Foundation.

“We chose solar lighting because it is affordable and eco-friendly,” says Khushaal. Project Chirag has even roped in the deaf-mute and the physically-disabled in its mission. Solar lamp and panel components are bought from private vendors and assembled by these people with disabilities.

“We install the panels and the lamps ourselves by going to the villages,” Khushaal says. This January, he was in Rajasthan, brightening up 683 homes across eight villages.

The students have tied up with several NGOs and students of other educational institutions in India and abroad. Over three years, the project has seen participation from more than 13,000 students.

“Around 58 crore people in 80,000 villages of India live without electricity,” Khushaal says. Passionate is not a strong enough word to describe his team’s belief in the cause. The teenagers repeatedly exchange the comfortable beds of their home for mats in villages, go without showers for two-three days, and eat simple food with the villagers, just to see the light in their eyes when light reaches their homes. “So far, villagers were using kerosene lamps. Besides developing breathing problems, children sometimes accidentally drink kerosene. These solar lamps do much more than allow them to see clearly at nights,” he says.

Lighting up one home costs the group 4,000 rupees. The villagers save as much as 300 rupees monthly on kerosene. “Most of these villagers live on subsistence farming. The money they save from the lamps, they plough into farming. And that helps them increase their output,” Khushaal says. Community-building is another positive outcome.

 

Four thousand seven hundred and counting, light has replaced darkness in these many rural homes, thanks to the efforts of a group of students of a Mumbai college.

When you first see him, Khushaal Talreja is your average South Mumbai teenager. Coming from an affluent business family, the 19-year-old lives in the upmarket Kemps Corner in Mumbai. Like most kids his age, this Bachelors of Management Science student at HR College loves soccer, volleyball and of course, cricket. But while most of his friends pub-hop on weekends and special days, he village-hops to carry out god’s command–Let there be light.

Khushaal is among the 50-odd students of HR College in Churchgate in Mumbai who have made it their mission to light up India’s villages with solar lamps. Their ‘Project Chirag’ has succeeded in doing what the government has only been talking about doing so far—light up 4,726 homes in 120 villages across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. This March 12, the project completes three years.

All those aunties and uncles who tut-tut about the younger generation and its lack of sympathy and empathy have clearly not met this group. “If it is to be, it is up to me” is their simple motto, substantiated with action.

Sometime around January 2010, a group of students of the college happened to visit a village called Ujjaini in the Wada district of Maharashtra. For the students, it was an unpleasant surprise that the 90-home village that lies just three hours from the shimmering Mumbai had no electricity. The students returned to the city and blanked out their college lights in a campaign called ‘Missing for a mission’. They asked each student of the college for just 10 rupees-the price of a packet of crisps or a cola. Many obliged, and a week later, the campaign raised around 5 lakh. Enough to light up the 90 homes in Ujjaini and more.

The rest, as they say, is history.

With funds raised from banks, companies and individuals, the group has taken solar lamps to a number of villages. Last year, it managed to register itself as a non-governmental organisation, Chirag Rural Development Foundation.

“We chose solar lighting because it is affordable and eco-friendly,” says Khushaal. Project Chirag has even roped in the deaf-mute and the physically-disabled in its mission. Solar lamp and panel components are bought from private vendors and assembled by these people with disabilities.

“We install the panels and the lamps ourselves by going to the villages,” Khushaal says. This January, he was in Rajasthan, brightening up 683 homes across eight villages.

The students have tied up with several NGOs and students of other educational institutions in India and abroad. Over three years, the project has seen participation from more than 13,000 students.

“Around 58 crore people in 80,000 villages of India live without electricity,” Khushaal says. Passionate is not a strong enough word to describe his team’s belief in the cause. The teenagers repeatedly exchange the comfortable beds of their home for mats in villages, go without showers for two-three days, and eat simple food with the villagers, just to see the light in their eyes when light reaches their homes. “So far, villagers were using kerosene lamps. Besides developing breathing problems, children sometimes accidentally drink kerosene. These solar lamps do much more than allow them to see clearly at nights,” he says.

Lighting up one home costs the group 4,000 rupees. The villagers save as much as 300 rupees monthly on kerosene. “Most of these villagers live on subsistence farming. The money they save from the lamps, they plough into farming. And that helps them increase their output,” Khushaal says. Community-building is another positive outcome.

He relates one incident where he was passing through Chichapada, a Maharashtra village where the group had lit not just homes but also the streets. “I saw children playing under the street lights and people coming together for socialising. Earlier, the streets would be deserted after sunset.” Other positives are increase in productivity and a sense of security.

By April-May, Project Chirag hopes to increase its lit-homes tally to 5,000. Thrust is now on North India. “We are looking for schools and NGOs in North India that want to collaborate with us,” says Khushaal.

And what’s in it for him? “The project has taught me to be grateful for every luxury I have. We have all become more sensitive to the plight of the poor. Yes, our social lives suffer and going into villages is physically taxing but the satisfaction we get makes it worth the trouble. If so many in India live in darkness, how will the country see light?”

Lessons for us grown-ups and the government here.

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