08 March, 2018 | Time to read : 8 minutes

Lighting Up Lives

India’s first all-woman solar workforce is driving out darkness – and stereotypes.

“Women can’t do that.”

My friends don’t believe me when I tell them that I am a solar technician. That I’m one of only a few women in the country who can install solar panels and light up homes.

“But aren’t they too heavy to carry?”

“Are you comfortable going into a stranger’s house?”

“What if something were to happen to you?”

My mother shared the same concerns a few months ago, when I told her that I wanted to quit my job and do something different – something that women don’t dare to. That I was going to be part of Mahindra Susten’s Surya Shakthi Project, an initiative to train women for solar panel installation.

Today, as she watches me pack for my very first site project, her maternal instincts kick in.

“You’ve never been out of town alone before. Will you be safe?”

I reassure her with a hug and tell her that I’ll be back in time for her birthday.

My friends don’t believe me when I tell them that I am a solar technician. That I’m one of only a few women in the country who can install solar panels and light up homes.”

A train ride and several anxious phone calls later, my team and I finally reach a large, sunny site in the south of India. Looking at the enormity of the field, my heart skips a beat. The solar panels neatly laid out on one side of the field also appear to be really large and heavy. Can we really do this?

For so long I had doused everybody else’s fears, that I never once stopped and faced my own. This was the moment of truth; I recall my training and focus on getting the job done.

I put on my safety gear like clockwork, and wait for the others to get ready.

At a distance, I notice a small group of workmen in muddy overalls, sipping on tea. They look at us curiously, snickering as we initially struggle with the weight of the panels.

One by one, we slowly mount the panels, aligning them to precision and making sure their angles are perfect. It takes us nearly an entire day under the harsh sun. But we finally manage to mount almost 10 panels on the field. Sweaty, exhausted, yet thrilled at completing our first site installation.

The workmen also seem impressed at our feat, as one of them gives us a thumbs up. Another approaches me cautiously and says in a small voice: Madam, I never thought a woman could do this. Thanks to you, many homes will have the gift of electricity.

All my fatigue vanishes and I can’t stop beaming. I send a few photos to my mother, posing next to the solar array.

“So proud of you,” comes her reply in no time. “It’s the best birthday gift.”

“In semi urban and rural areas, ladies have far better acceptability entering houses, which during the day, are manned by women.”

Holistic Development

The women of Surya Shakthi are certified after a rigorous three-month classroom and on-site training.

After 600 hours of technical training, financial and computer literacy, self-defence training, entrepreneurship skills and effective communication, these women can go out into the world and hold their own.

The vision is to empower each woman to have a team of her own.

Himani Kumar | Lead – Sustainability & CSR, Mahindra Susten

Project Surya Shakthi is not only empowering the community by creating a dignified workforce of independent women, but also giving society the gift of access to clean and affordable energy.