Lux is the Latin for light.
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In October 2000, Faith and Anthony Harckham visited the village of Norung in Nepal. When we met with the village council we learned that one of the chief needs of the community was lighting to replace their expensive kerosene lights and their dangerous open wick oil lamps.
After investigating various lighting methods we decided to provide a solar based light-emitting-diode (LED) system for the villagers. This system was obtained from a supplier in Kathmandu but we carried out the installation of solar panels on the school roof and mounting the lights in individual homes whilst also celebrating the wedding of a friend from that Norung.
We would have liked to take others back there with us to share the wonderfully warm reception we had in Norung, for there are many similar villages in that area which is well off the standard tourist itinerary. However the disturbances there deterred us from returning in the immediate future.
Instead we did take a group of trekkers to install similar systems in two villages in Bolivia, but we had to design the lighting system from scratch since there was nothing similar to our Kathmandu source located in La Paz. This trip took place in September 2002.
In April 2003 a small group went to Guatemala and installed a different lighting system in a community of persons who had been displaced in the civil war. A larger group came to Shimshal in Pakistan in the fall of 2003 and installed lights in three villages there as well as trekking to the Shujerab high village.
In May of 2004 we repaired some of the lights previously installed in Bolivia and installed new lights in an additional village there. We then travelled to Peru and installed lights in two villages in the Huayhuash Cordilerra region.
On each trip the lights had been different as we evolved and improved the design of the lighting systems and took advantage of the changing technology. But it was whilst we were in Peru that we realized that what people really need is a lantern that they could move around, and fixed wiring and solar panels were poor solutions for the real needs. This led to a radical redesign and the development of our first lantern.
The first lanterns were installed during our biggest trip undertaken when we had seventeen people in Arusha, Tanzania. We installed 400 lanterns in a rural community there and immediately learned how the Local people used the lanterns in part for keeping a check on their cattle at night.
In May 2005 we installed lanterns in another community in Peru and started an ongoing relationship with that region mediated by Val Pitkethly who guides in that area and with support from the Juniper Foundation in the UK. We have a trained support person in Huaraz who can build and maintain lights for us.
In January 2006 we took a group to Ethiopia and installed lights in communities who live on the edge of the Blue Nile gorge. In 2006 we were contacted by a person who was then living the US but who would like us to assist in getting light to his home communities in India. We took two parties there and installed 330 lanterns in two communities. In September 2007, Faith and a friend, returned to these villages to replace the batteries in the lanterns, some of which had turned out to be faulty.
This was the point at which our approach changed. We had changed the lantern design to use NiMH batteries instead of lead-acid batteries since we considered that the lead batteries represented a significant environmental problem. We had up to this point funded the lanterns as gifts to the communities and to assist us in this each of the trekkers who accompanied us made a significant contribution to the cost of the lighting systems. We were very grateful for this support and our frequently returning trekkers told us that they considered that they had obtained a unique experience in exchange for their support.
The logistics of managing large groups was becoming a burden and in addition we felt that people should pay for their lanterns so that they would feel more responsible for maintaining them. We also knew that cheap solar systems were in the market and creating frustration for purchasers who found that their lights failed and there was no way of getting them fixed. We decided that we would train local people to build lights and help them to establish a business for selling lights and maintaining them.
In September 2007, Luxtreks worked with Cynthia Hunt of Health Inc. in Ladakh, Northern India to teach a group of rural villagers, mainly from the Dhamkar valley how to build solar lanterns. This proved to be the start of an ongoing relationship which was renewed in September 2008, April 2009 and June 2010. It has resulted in one business being run by nuns in Sani, Zanskar, and one business being set up by a women’s co-operative in Turtuk. In addition, Health Inc has been directly supplying some of the trekking companies in Leh, the chief city in Ladakh, with these lights. (See the Ladakh Relief link for information about the recent floods and damage in Ladakh.)
In parallel with this we have worked with Women for Human Rights in Kathmandu, Nepal to train single women in building and selling lanterns. A first workshop was held in October 2008 and further training was done in April 2009.
A company, Paru Powerlink, has been set up in Kathmandu by a Nepali friend to further extend the reach of lanterns both in rural communities and in the urban environment which is plagued with power outages. Trekking companies here have also bought lights.
A major issue for us has been the cost of importing components into different countries. At present our batteries come from China, from NEXcell who have provided a high quality product. All the rest of our major components come from India and so we do not face import duties for our work in Ladakh but we do in Nepal and we are working with Paru Powerlink to address this. This import duty issue is a major problem with countries giving lip service to “green” considerations but imposing duty rates of up to 88%, based on actual cost plus transportation costs.
The early stage companies we have helped to start in Ladakh and Nepal are trying to use microcredit where they can to ensure that the lights reach the most needy part of the community. For a light which costs 2000 rupees in India, the payback period against kerosene or candle costs is less than one year. This makes microcredit a fully viable option. To help in this we have received funding from the St. Albert Rotary group.
This is a brief overview of the history of Luxtreks: we will provide additional information to anyone who wishes to contact us. This can be done through email to faith @ luxtreks.com (if you are human leave the spaces out) We plan to add material to describe our technology and other support material. Come again and see if we have managed to live up to our plans. A link is provided to the historic website for as long as that remains relevant!
In October 2010 a group was established by Faith in Canmore to promote awareness of international development issues and the work that is being done at a grass-roots level. http://www.cidag.ca/
Last updated January 6th 2011