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The Gift of Light: Rocky Point, Nicaragua

By Angela Cacciola -- “I didn’t ask for it! But by God, am I thankful. We got light!” exclaims Miss Suzanny after her solar panel installation. Our two days in Rocky Point are filled with emphatic expressions like these. Earlier, Miss Suzanny’s son-in-law, Gene, joked, “To hell with Chonky and his light, I got my own!”

Forty families live in Rocky Point, a small farming community located between two larger coastal towns in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. Although the power lines pass through these lands, there are no plans to connect the houses here to the grid. Up until blueEnergy arrived in late November, candles and kerosene lamps produced the only light found in the little wooden homes at night. This has proven to be a dangerous solution to lighting needs. Last year two children died in a house fire in a neighboring community caused by a candle burning in their room. Now, two homes in Rocky Point are graced with 30-watt solar panels which provide four hours of light daily. Starting next year, blueEnergy hopes to continue its joint efforts working with the local governments and the local Peace Corps volunteer to provide solar panel systems to rest of the families who need light.

Installing Solar Panels in Rocky Point

Each solar panel system installation takes between four to six hours, and everyone around contributes to the efforts. The women cook delicious local specialties, the men chop down the posts necessary to raise the solar panels above the house and help with the electrical installation and the children retrieve whatever tools the men require.

Our first beneficiary, Chonky, greets us enthusiastically from his porch. Today his grandchildren are not around, but he does not remain alone for long. Soon enough, five friends arrive to help with the installation. Hours of laughing and good-natured joking, usually concerning the universally masculine topics of women, wine, and song, follow our brief, informal introductions.

Chonky's house is even dark in the daytime

Chonky is thrilled to finally be able to cook and read at night after work. “I read my bible,” he says. “I read these (pointing to magazines) what have notes of what going on in the world.” He holds up a half dozen spiral-bound manuals, “I am a technic man…I have a lot of course that I take and reference back to the material.” At night, Chonky’s lights can be seen shining from the hammocks close to his house where we sleep. On, off. On, off. A fundamental service like electric light can serve to amaze those who acquire it for the first time.

Panel at Chonky's house
Shortly after dawn, Gene leads us to his mother-in-law’s house for the second installation. The approach to Ms. Suzanny’s house is a picture perfect walk though a coconut grove flanked by enormous piles of coconut husks. Orange and cacao trees, sugarcane, corn, yucca, and beans, scattered throughout the grove provide ample amounts of food for people and animals alike. In the back sits a dilapidated, three-room, wooden house, complete with a hammock swinging from the front porch. The abundant coconut husks do not only remain in the forest; many are pressed into the dirt around the house, sufficing as a walkway to endure the sodden, muddy earth. Pigs relish in these mucky conditions, and can be seen competing with the chickens for scraps. If you stick around long enough, horses and cows will come by, and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the skittish calf left orphaned by disease.

The second install takes place with relative ease, as the panel fixed on the top of the wooden post chopped down from the bush is tied into the charge controller and battery. Gene’s two young sons take a shy interest and soon warm up to us. They make great helpers, responding quickly to find tools or help hold materials. We explain the difference between positive and negative, how a battery works, AC vs. DC and what the lights on the charge controller mean. Gene is just as fascinated as the boys, and repeats our explanations in his own words. He wants to be the first person the community calls on if there is any technical trouble.

Gene and Casey from blueEnergy running wire

Rocky Point the Community

Throughout the day, the family imparts their own knowledge upon us as well. Gene shows us how to properly use a long stick to shake coconuts from the tops of the trees and open them with the machete. His boys demonstrate the best way to forge through the jungle, swinging low with each slice of the machete to kill any potentially lethal snakes before stepping on them. They also boast their skills with slingshots, quickly returning with a bird. Miss Suzanny offers her kitchen expertise, the manner which to grate coconut and make tea from “cowfoot” leaves, along with hours of local history. 

Gene's kids help Casey secure the solar panel

During her mouthwatering lunch, Miss Suzanny takes out a poster board covered in pictures of the community’s progress over the past year. She talks about the communal house that was built and the weekly educational sessions that are to the adults who never had an opportunity to get much education. Clearly this farming community lives much more intimately than those in many places who have access to instantaneous communication resources. “If we see someone needs help, we will be right there doing whatever we can,” Miss Suzanny affirms. “We work together here. If he needs ten pounds of corn to plant this season and I have it, I will give it to him. Next time I need something, he will give it to me too.”

Ms. Suzanny and Gene with Gene's kids

The people of Rocky Point do not have much, but they share with us all that they can. We bring them their future, and they remind us of our past. The 30-watt solar panel blueEnergy installs in each house cannot power a factory, but it is enough to power two 9-watt bulbs. Two light bulbs are enough to give Chonky a few more hours a night to study his continuing education manuals and Gene’s kids time to finish their homework before they go to bed. Two light bulbs are enough to give both families peace of mind, instead of worrying about an open candle flame burning inside their homes. For the first two families who received light in Rocky Point, two light bulbs are a blessing.

It is because of stories like the one above that blueEnergy remains committed to providing basic energy services to people in some of the hardest to serve regions in the Western Hemisphere.

We ask for your support to help us help many more Chonky’s and Ms. Suzanny’s. Every amount counts as our network of support grows and we find strength in numbers.

Join us to make sure that everyone gets a chance. Give the gift of light.

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