As in every town, where I come from, I’m surrounded by technology and modern equipment. Although it’s not as advanced as America or Europe for that matter, but still, it’s a glimpse of how electricity plays an important part in everyone’s life. Nowadays, people mostly use electricity for their basic needs such as for light bulbs, fridges, and other equipment. All those things, undoubtedly, made our everyday life easier and help fulfill our basic needs.
But what happens when electricity in your area is limited? That’s exactly what happens if you live in Sawinggrai. We miss all those privileges that other people consider basic needs.
Just last month, I had to sleep using candles as the only source of light in my room because the inverter for the solar panel was having technical issues. Well, having electrical issues is a common problem you can experience in a remote area such as this, even in the hospital, the electricity could be turned off for almost 15 minutes. Cases such as these are common problems here. It can happen anytime and the duration cannot be predicted. Just last week, the village had to deal with living without electricity for a week or so. They were not able to use any electricity at all.
Moreover, even when the electricity is not down, the time they get to enjoy electricity is only from 6pm-6am. Therefore, the only activities possible for the village from morning until nearly evening are things that don’t relate to electricity. But when they feel like they need one, some of the houses have a small generator so they can fulfill what we call basic needs.
That limited electricity just came to almost all of Raja Ampat’s village in 2018. Before that, electricity could only be enjoyed by those who had money to fuel their generator. Hence, it’s not a surprise that people here are still not familiar with many devices such as smart phones, computers and laptops or other home appliances that need electricity for that matter.
Furthermore, many people’s everyday life is becoming more dependent on the internet, such as in the commerce industry, or people in tourism promoting their trips and homestays. They are all dependent upon electricity and fast internet. This is why I personally think electricity is extremely important for people.
Do you remember why I thought they have a culture of that hunter gatherer? I personally believed electricity is one of the reasons why the hunter-gatherer culture is still relevant for them until today. Imagine, they have to gather or collect food when the morning or day comes, and it’s not that easy to get food in the wilderness or plant and nurture the plants. These activities are both time and energy consuming. Just as the Maslow’s pyramid indicates, the basic needs always come first before anyone can go further up in the pyramid hierarchy. Since most of them don’t have a fridge to stock their food, providing enough food for the day become the primary concern. Other methods to conserve food is to smoke it, salt it, or process it such as dry sago.
That’s also why the school at the village could not teach how to use a computer even though it’s actually a basic requirement for any job in any area., With the old learning center, before it became a foundation, they could only study at night because again, in order to get the food, they needed a lot of time and preparation, not to mention the lack of a fridge to store their food. Even so, they still managed to study during the night and were still able to produce brilliant students that could speak English very well compared to other students in this area, or possibly in the whole of Raja Ampat.
For the educational part, we all know that with the pandemic, teaching shifted into online classes, but with their electricity issue, it left many children t without a proper education for months.
The time factor to get food and not being able to keep it cool is also a big challenge for the development of this area. Sadly, this is happening almost in every area in Raja Ampat. Even to build a house, their work schedule may be delayed because the small generator can only generate a small amount of electricity. And it uses so much fuel, when we all know electric equipment not only takes less time but also helps to build a more durable and long-lasting house.
As for the Foundation, 100% of our activities are powered by solar panels. They produce enough power for the whole building with lots of laptops to be recharged and many lightbulbs to light up the class rooms for all the activities we have. But, solar panels require a lot of maintenance as well as sunny weather, which is never guaranteed. We also need a rainy day to re-fill the water tank in order to have fresh water to take a shower or do laundry. Therefore, we need a balance between sunny and rainy weather. To have them both at the same time would not be possible. So far, the balance between the two has given us enough power and fresh water supply.
To have a building where the solar panel is the main source of power is very rare in Raja Ampat. Even in Indonesia, based on Bisnis.com in their 2021 article, only 3,472 houses are powered by solar energy. Despite the fact how low the numbers were, it is said to be increasing every month. Although, for the time being, most of Indonesian people still depend on conventional energy production because we have lots of resources of fossil-based energy, Sawinggrai included.
As a conclusion, the availability of electricity is undoubtedly important. It could also have many roles in the development of the area, like supporting education facilities, communication and to promote tourism and homestays. Last but not least, it would also help to fulfill the basic needs of every person, such as the availability of food storage and fridge or something similar. I also realized it’s not easy to make people understand the importance of electricity, let alone the importance of renewable energy to save the environment. Another issue with renewable energy is that even if the government provided solar-based energy to the village, it would have to be maintained properly, but the remoteness makes it very difficult to do so. While it’s still progressing in a slow pace, I’m sure if people could realize the benefits of renewable energy by looking at the school’s building, it would bring more of them to consider alternative energy resources, to realize they could do the maintenance themselves and also to be independent in terms of energy.