Onguime, from the Waorani people, lives deep in Ecuador's northeastern Amazon rainforest, a long canoe journey from the nearest road. Today there are only around 2,000 Waorani, all living in small rainforest communities along the rivers. Everyday, so-called access roads built by the fossil fuel industry are encroaching deeper and deeper into this pristine rainforest territory, forcefully opening the homelands of the Waorani to foreign settlers and large-scale industry presence.
Onguime lives in Nemonpare, a small Waorani community. Until very recently there was only candlelight here - when money would allow it. When we visited Nemonpare as part of the solar project IMAGINE LIGHT, Onguime invited us to accompany her into the forest to collect the natural materials - leaves, seeds and wood – that she uses to make traditional handicrafts. She finds them all directly in her natural surroundings. They are gifts of nature.
She tells us that indigenous women prefer to make their handicrafts in the darker and cooler evening hours, after 6pm when the sun sets. During the precious daylight hours, women are busy working their crops, harvesting, weeding, cooking, washing laundry in the river and doing household chores. However, they cannot always afford candles.
Thanks to LOVE FOR LIFE´s solar project, IMAGINE LIGHT, indigenous women can now manage their daily routine in a much more flexible way. The solar home systems provide them with six hours more light each day - precious hours which can now be used to meet their individual needs and fulfill family tasks.
Onguime is free, she says, to make her handicrafts without the pressure of having limited hours of daylight. She and the other women use their newly won hours of light to tell stories and share their knowledge, an important element in the transmission of their wisdom tradition, and the preservation of millennia-old knowledge about medicinal plants and living in symbiosis with the natural world. She explains: “Now, I, like the other women in my community, can use the hours of daylight to calmly dedicate time to my family, to do the household chores, and to collect the materials for our handicrafts, without worrying and rushing to get it all done before the sun sets and the darkness caves in.”
IMAGINE LIGHT’s holistic approach includes both the use of regenerative technology and the building and strengthening of local capacity. Self-determination and empowerment are at the heart of the project’s goals, because we recognize that sustainable and successful counteractions to the destruction of the rainforest must include strategies developed and sustained by the indigenous people themselves.
LOVE FOR LIFE strengthens the capacity of its local partner organization, and trains local engineers and indigenous people to become solar technicians who can independently install, operate, maintain, and repair solar home systems in their own communities. Furthermore, each end-user is trained by the community technician to operate and maintain their solar home systems safely.
And due to the absence of a monetary system in most rainforest communities, LOVE FOR LIFE developed an alternative form of payment called the Contraparte-Model, to create a sense of ownership, responsibility, and accountability of the beneficiaries to secure project sustainability and its long-term success.
The system consists of a monthly tariff system for maintenance services by the community technician, contribution of natural materials for solar system installation such as wood, sand and pebble stones and active participation in the intense transportation of material through the Amazon rivers with canoes, lodging and food during system installation. Plus traditional handicrafts as a cultural exchange and cultural-sensitive form of payment for the solar home system by each beneficiary family.
IMAGINE LIGHT's primary objective is not only to provide indigenous peoples with sustainable access to clean solar energy, but to empower them through independent electricity access to live their lives as they wish, to strengthen them in their struggle for physical and cultural survival, and in particular, to lift the burden of energy poverty which is disproportionately born by women and girls.