Benson Maroro: My Trip to Bangladesh and Nepal

August 3, 2018

A vital opportunity for cross-organizational learning

Benson Maroro is our Technical Project Officer in East Africa. He joined Renewable world in September 2016 and has been responsible for managing the technical delivery of our solar micro-grids in Kenya. In May 2018 Benson had the opportunity to support our solar micro-grid project in Bangladesh and joined Baburam Paudel, our Global Technical Manager, and Sayeed Mahadi, Technical Officer, on a technical review visit to both project sites. Following this, he also visited the Renewable World Nepal office and a number of project sites, providing a vital opportunity for cross-organizational learning.

This May I was very excited for the opportunity to fly out from Kenya to visit our project sites in Bangladesh and Nepal, to carry out tests and gather crucial data and information on the technical design and performance of the renewable energy systems.

Bangladesh: Powering Aquaculture

My first stop was Bangladesh where I would have the chance to learn from Renewable World’s Powering Aquaculture project, which is being delivered in partnership with iDE Bangladesh. After some complications, I finally obtained my visa and so the journey could begin. After a five-hour flight, I had to change planes at Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates. A few hours later, I arrived in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka. At the airport the immigration department did not make it easy for anyone to enter the country, and even inside the terminal building the extreme humidity troubled me. When I eventually got out of the airport – at around 4.30am – I felt very dizzy and tired. By that time, the city was already full of people. I asked my cab driver who happened to understand a bit English why it was already so bright and warm outside. He explained to me that it’s already summer in Bangladesh and that the nights are very short. It felt so different to the winter in Nairobi that I had just left. After checking in at the hotel, I had a short rest and then went to have breakfast. The food  contained lots of chilli and pickles; something I’m not used to and struggled a bit with. Afterwards, I rested the remainder of the day so I would be well prepared and ready for the first site visit the next day.

The following morning my colleague from Bangladesh picked me up and we had a briefing and lunch together before leaving for Barisal. Barisal is a large city in the south of Bangladesh, more than 200km from Dhaka. We had to get to the old town of Dhaka to catch the “river launch”, which is what they call the big ships. I was overwhelmed by the masses of people in the city; plenty of bicycles, carts pulled by horses, people by foot and many street vendors crowded the streets and made it difficult to even move. Not being used to this, the whole scenario looked funny to me. When we arrived at the port I was surprised by the sheer size of the river – it looked more like a lake. The ship was bigger than expected and reminded me of the tourist ships I have seen in my coastal town. At home, the ferries that are used to cross the lakes or cover short distances on the sea are very small compared to the ships I saw here. We stayed in air-conditioned cabins on the launch and spent the night travelling down river.

a river launch

The following morning we arrived in Barisal – a very busy town filled with small shops selling various things ranging from food to household goods. After having breakfast we travelled to Bhola on a speed boat, which was very bumpy travelling along big and small rivers. We arrived in the small river port and then travelled by ‘Tuk Tuk’ (a noisy  auto rickshaw) to the community where the project is located. The site itself is located in the middle of an island, surrounded by fields and many fish ponds and near a small village.

Bhola site visit

Through the project, a solar micro-grid has been installed, which is used by a fish hatchery to pump water for their business. Households in the community surrounding the fish hatchery are also connected to the solar micro-grid, providing them with lighting and power. In the community they have several ponds full of fish and other smaller ponds for the rearing of fingerlings. For both kind of ponds, great care and consistently fresh oxygen-rich water is needed.

Solar micro-grid in Bhola supported through the Powering Aquaculture project.
Solar micro-grid in Bhola supported through the Powering Aquaculture project

Over two days we performed technical tests on the solar micro-grid system which took a lot of time, carefully gathering as much information as possible, so by the time we left we were satisfied with the output. After only a short assessment, I understood the importance of the hatchery to the community. Its members told me about the big impact the installation had had; they said that it is of one of the best things that has happened to them in their life and that the technology behind the system was very simple. The ‘pay as you go’ energy payment system, which uses money transfer via mobile phones, was another great thing that people mentioned to me right away.

To get to the next project site we had to take the speed boat again. We passed a community which amazed me; I had to stop to take some pictures. This community live on the water, living in small boats tied together. These people are landless and due to this have ended up making their life floating on the water.

Abdullah site visit

The second project community, know as Abdullah, is based in the very south of Bangladesh, in the Ganges Delta.  It is very remote and still off-grid; these people visibly need power the most.

The system the project has installed provides energy to a fish hatchery and about 20 families for domestic and small business use. According to the community members they are very happy with the solar system; they told us it is very reliable. They no longer have to use traditional forms of lighting such as kerosene lamps or candles. It struck me right away how windy it was in that area. Sometimes, they told me, the monsoon wind can become very dangerous and even deadly. When this happens, the community members take shelter from the storm and the heavy rain in the local school building. This building has been designed with a hurricane shelter included and is funded and maintained by the Bangladeshi government.

With Renewable World colleagues Baburam Paudel and Sayeed Mahadi at the project site

We spent two days at the project site, assessing the energy system and the technical comments, as well as reviewing how the energy was being utilised. After gathering all the information needed, we set off to Dhaka again by a night-time river launch, and arrived safely the following morning.

Nepal: Solar-Powered Water Pumping

The next day, we flew out of Bangladesh to Nepal. Up in the air in the plane, I could see how big Dhaka and its buildings actually are and was amazed by the scale of the city. After four hours we arrived in Kathmandu: ‘Welcome to Nepal the land of Lord Buddha’, the welcome sign at the airport said. It was warm and the air was dusty. The following day I had some time to explore Kathmandu; the old quarter of the city – Patan – which is filled with ancient temples, as well as building remains stemming from the devastating earthquake in 2015. I went to see the monks pray at the Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal and a holy Tibetan Buddhist site.

Visiting temples in Kathmandu

Site visits in Surkhet

The following day I flew to the Surkhet District which is located in the Western part of Nepal, approximately 600km away from Kathmandu. The flight was spectacular; flying over the Himalayan Mountains, that sit higher than the clouds, lit by morning sunshine was a sight I will not forget. The next day, I set off to see some of Renewable World’s solar water pumping projects. The way to the first site turned out to be very challenging; the meandering tiny roads in the hilly region were blocked by fallen trees and rocks caused by a recent storm. At times, we had to borrow an axe from the surrounding villagers – walking up to 40 minutes down the valley – to cut the fallen trees in order to get past.

In the rural community of Aam Kholi Gother of Surkhet Distict Renewable World has in installed a two-staged solar water pump, powered by a 5.4kW solar array. The system provides a minimum of 13,665 litres of water to the 169 households through 35 connection taps. The fact that access to drinking water presents one of the most pressing issues in the rural parts of Nepal is immediately striking. Community residents have to travel two hours on an average every day to fetch water from the source or springs, which are mostly far deep into the valley of the hilly mountainous region.

One woman told me that following the installation of the solar pumping system, “it now only takes a record of three minutes to fetch a 10 litre container full of water and carry it to the kitchen.”

Pumping water up the hills to the village has dramatically improved the lives of family members, especially women and girls who used to spend a lot of their time collecting water for domestic use. Now more time is available to engage in agriculture: planting wheat, rice and vegetables. I perceived the community members to be very happy with this change; they are looking forward to more improvements yet to happen due to the easily available and reliable clean water.

 ‘’Provision of this commodity changes the way life is viewed for the entire generation in that locality.”