And then there was light
MANILA, Philippines - When US-based Ralph Chesley, a Filipino born and raised in the Philippines until he was about 12 years old, returned to his boyhood town in Candelaria, Zambales after 38 years, he was shocked to find out that there wasn’t much improvement in the standard of living.
“I returned in 2003 after a 38-year hiatus. I couldn’t understand how so many improvements can be made but not the standard of living. The families living in abject poverty bothered me to do something,” Chesley told The STAR.
Candelaria, a third-class municipality of Zambales, has 13 barangays, mostly located near the shoreline far from the city proper. Most families in the area are tillers of land they do not own, or fish for a living.
Although they do not have electricity, residents prioritize putting food on the table than worrying about having light and power in their homes, which are mostly nipa huts.
Chesley says, “After five years of deciding what to do, I put up an organization. The project is about serving the poorest of the poor with renewable energy. Our mission is to empower the people with renewable energy.”
Thus, he put up the Renewable Energy Enterprises Foundation (REEF), an international public charity registered with the US Department of Treasury.
REEF’s mission of pushing renewable energy technologies to alleviate poverty focuses on health care, solar systems for poor families, education and career development in the renewable energy industry.
The main goal, Chesley said, is to lift families beyond subsistence living, provide opportunities for children to complete secondary school, and improve women’s health through sustainable living practices.
REEF director of operations Grace Gonzales adds that their priority is to provide solar light lantern to families with kids who are in school.
“REEF also provides a work desk where students can do their homework,” she adds.
Currently, REEF operates in the Zambales and Bulacan provinces, where many families are living either off the grid or are unable to afford electricity. Such families and individuals rely on solid fuels such as humid wood, dung, crop residue, charcoal and kerosene for both light and for cooking with crude stoves or open fires, according to REEF’s website, alleviatepovertynow.org.
To curb the practice, REEF came up with a program for families. It partnered with local officials and community leaders to identify what it would take to slow down environmental degradation and improve overall health in the community.
“By offsetting 40 to 60 percent of a family’s cooking and lighting expenses with renewable energy and sustainable practices, a family can divert funds to healthcare and education. By improving socio-economic conditions of the poorest, we believe we can promote good health, environmental and educational practices for the community at large,” REEF also said.
“To date, we have helped 2,000 families since 2011 with solar lanterns and cooking stoves,” he said.
Chesley said REEF hopes to double its outreach every two years.
Another program is its Green Hospital program, created to augment a hospital’s expansion of healthcare and medical care services.
“Since renewable energy projects are designed to reduce a hospital’s electric load by 80 percent or more and because solar modules last 40 years, under these conditions benefits are considerable; the savings can finance expansion of healthcare delivery services and improve medical care with long-term benefits to the community, patient care, administration and, of course, to the environment,” REEF said.
REEF is in discussions with future partners to begin installing solar PV systems to off- and on-grid schools and remote barangay centers without electricity.
Moving forward, Chesley said REEF has more plans.
“In three years, we want to provide teaching modules, solar equipment and trainers to provincial colleges to begin educating and training students for 21st century jobs in the renewable energy industry and in doing so build its own trained workforce for its own projects,” he said.
Last March, REEF conducted disaster relief efforts in Cebu.
“We served 500 families with desperately needed solar lanterns. We plan to expand our efforts in this area as needed by the communities. We look to partner with other non-government organizations and local government units to maximize our resources,” he added.
Overall, he said, the goal is to raise Filipinos’ standard of living.
“We intend to return next year with plans to reach 1,000 families, provided that financing is available. We are a self-financed organization. We are all volunteers in five countries focused on helping the poor. We need to continue this very important mission and would need financial support in the form of grants or donations,” he said.
Interested donors may reach Chesley at firstname.lastname@example.org