Along the Gujarat and Maharashtra border in India, just about 50km from the Western Railway tracks, are tribal villages disconnected from the power grid and forgotten by modern-day India. Some towns have electricity but load shedding occurs many times a day, making it difficult for students to study and poses a security threat for girls and women.
These villages are located not too far from my ancestral maternal town of Chinchani. Starting in 2009, Dr. Huzefa Mehta and Dr. Reena Mehta, my parents, started a San Jose-based non-profit called Grameen Pragati. Our family collects funds by running several marathons and half marathons for charity, raising a few thousand dollars a year to fund projects in the rural villages near Chinchani. I ran my first half marathon in 2011 and have done six half marathons and a full marathon since to support our efforts. To date, we have funded solar lanterns for two schools, solar electrified two villages, and installed a solar water filtration system, resulting in a total of 6 projects over 12 years.
2012: We gave 37 solar lanterns to students at KD high school who did not have any electricity in their homes. One 10th standard girl mentioned that “everyday morning we have to get up, fetch water and go to school. A similar chores situation occurs in the evening. When we have time to study, there are no appropriate lights.” The solar lanterns allowed students to study and kept villagers safe at hours when electricity was not available. Solar lamps as opposed to kerosene lamps have no hazardous effect on health and the environment.
2014: A year and a half later, we installed ninety LED tube lights and fifteen-watt solar panels in seventy homes in the village Aine and six streetlights in a hostel seven kilometers outside of Aine. The money for this project came from our fundraiser where we ran the 200-mile Relay from Napa to Santa Cruz.
2017: For the next project, my brother Amal and I selected a remote village boarding school named Ranshet Ashramlaya in Tal Dahanu District, Palghar which houses 750 boys and girls. We installed 7W DC LED in each of the 8 girls’ and boys’ rooms, 14 feet tube lights in the common area, an 18 W tube light in the kitchen with a 12-hour backup, and solar tube lights to Rankhol Ashram and Nikne village.
Water in rural villages is sourced from local rivers or wells. Poor quality of water is a cause of frequent cases of gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in the villages. During this particular visit, we did our first solar filtration install in Aine village.
We used a “point of use” light, compact, easy to use, and clean purifier consisting of a set of solar panels connected to a motor that pumps water out of a well into a large overhead tank in the village through a network of underground pipes. The 3 kW capacity solar panels attached to a 2 horsepower pump, lifts water from the well and fills the 5,000 liter overhead tank in the village. This water then passes through a membrane inside the filtration unit, providing clean drinking water. The system was installed with the help of local team members. The total cost of all the projects of this trip was Rs 225,000 ($3,491). Ranchet Ashram sent feedback on our efforts: “Since last Saturday there is absolutely no light at the Ashramshala and the Grameen Pragati Solar Lights have helped the kids and students feel secure, especially girls and helped them to have dinner instead of being in complete darkness or just with candles!”
2019: Seeing the successful implementation of the water filtration system, the Engineers without Borders (EWB) team from Rowan University, New Jersey reached out to work with Grameen Pragati to implement a triple sink for a cleaning vessels project. Under the direction of Daxa Lalsodagar, the EWB team conducted field trips to Ranshet Ashramalaya.
If you would like to learn more, check out Grameen Pragati’s website. If you would like to donate, email [email protected] or [email protected]. You can also call +91 9672980150 (Daxa Lalsodagar) to donate!
Anav Mehta is a rising senior at Cupertino High School. Besides being actively involved in Grameen Pragati fundraisers and project implementation, he is an instructor and Eagle Scout in Troop 407.