"I belong to a lower caste system in Indian society."
My background doesn’t allow me to get involved in many cultural programs or festivals in my community. I cannot go to the temple or come into contact with higher caste members of society, in order to not harm others' purity. As an untouchable, my classmates would avoid me as a child, and I dropped out of school at age six.
My father contracted HIV and died and my mother passed away from cancer, leaving behind my sister and I. I was very stressed. At a young age, the hunger in my stomach taught me that food was more important than education.
With the support of one of my uncles, I began working in a small rice factory to support my sister and myself. Because I was not earning enough for the both of us, my sister also had to drop out of school to work alongside me. I grew up with this minimal income source, but it always made me wonder why this caste system was in place. My neighbours refused to give me extra work due to my lower caste. Life was becoming more challenging day by day.
One day, I was passing by a school and I saw some sunlight reflecting off of the roof. I was very curious to know what the reflection was of - it didn't look like gold or silver. I was feeling gutsy, so I walked inside the school and found a class was in session. I was very happy to see the children, as I missed going to school myself. In order to not disturb them, I turned back to leave, but a voice came from behind asking me to stop.
I turned back and saw the teacher of the school. She asked me if I was here to check and see if our panels were working or not. I was speechless because I didn't understand what a "panel" was. Before I could figure out what to say, she guided me towards the roof.
It seemed like I was walking to satisfy my neverending curiosity. On the roof, I found an iron plate reflecting the rays of the sun. I smiled a little. The teacher asked me why I was smiling, and I explained to her my curiosity about this gold. After several moments of silence, the teacher explained to me that this was not gold, but this panel can be more valuable than a diamond to our society and the world. It can be used as a source of income if you know what to do with it. I blinked twice and looked again at the plates. I was so surprised! How could these plates help me earn money?
Then I heard the sound of some children playing and laughing while they rushed up the stairs towards the roof. The children went near the system and poured some water into a bag, checking the water levels. After some time, they went back to their class. This piqued my curiosity even further.
The teacher explained to me that these are solar panels. They absorb energy from the sun and provide us with electricity during the night when it's dark or necessary. Though the school was far away from the electrical grid, it is able to access power through these plates. She showed me how the lights and fans are connected and how the power is converted.
I asked her about the bag of water the children poured water in. She explained that this is a simple mechanism called the SunSaluter. This water bag is capable of rotating the panels to face towards the sun, from morning to evening. This gives the school four additional hours of power.
I was so overwhelmed by this concept that I immediately decided to learn about this technology. With the kind support of the school and the local SunSaluter team, I soon became a trained technician to install and maintain solar panels in my region.
My first payment came from installing a panel in the local block department, which was coordinated by the local SunSaluter team. Slowly, I became more passionate about my work and other people started to recognize me. They began to call me "Mechanic Bala".
To my surprise, the people who used to avoid eye contact with me are now shaking my hand, thanking me for my good work. I started building a sustainable income source for myself, doing something interesting and for the betterment of society. Now I understand why the teacher said solar is more precious than a diamond. Solar reduces our consumption of non-renewable energy sources, which are destroying our climate.
Today, because of SunSaluter, I realize now that education is more important than just money. With my good knowledge of solar energy, I am now able to earn money. Most importantly, I am recognized by my own name, rather than my caste. Tears come to my eyes when I feel that I am no longer illiterate. People respect me and call me "Mechanic Bala".
This was only possible because of the nice team of SunSaluter. I wish for them to do this more and more, as there are many vulnerable people out there. I will spread awareness of this work in the nearby villages, because now I am no longer a vulnerable person - I am a skilled mechanic!
Join the Movement
Build your own SunSaluter, spread the word, or donate!