On Friday, a group of third-year engineering students of the National Institute of Technology (Calicut) will leave their academic confines here to take the night bus to a tribal village inside the Muthanga forests in Wayanad.

There the party will be met by schoolchildren of Chettyalathoor village, home to Paniyar and Kattunaikkar tribes, for whom they bring light.

A van carrying units and solar panels will follow the students to the settlement. The students will spend the next two days there, setting up solar panels in 27 tribal homes, each chosen for having at least one school-going child.

A 20-watt solar unit will power one LED bulb for five hours in each tribal home - enough for a child to do his homework and go to sleep without fear of wild elephants roaming the forest outside.

“The people of Chettyalathoor have not been provided with power. Wild elephant attacks are frequent in this area which is the main reason for the exclusion of this area from power grids. Many plans were proposed by different organisations but none were realised which motivated us to go forth,” the group’s brochure chronicles their initiative called the Aavishkar project.

The 40-strong group comes under a NIT students’ collective called Social Engineering Forum. The project is financed by proceeds of the annual Tatwa Tech Festival conducted at the institute.

On seniors’ footsteps

“The connection with the Chettyalathoor village began last year. One of our seniors from the area was contacted by a teacher of Chettyalathoor Government Lower Primary School, saying the computer that the government gave to the school as part of an e-literacy programme was taken back as there was no power supply in the school,” Akash P. James, a biotechnology student, said.

The teacher’s call for help led Akash’s seniors to visit the school. They went on to fix a solar panel to power seven LED bulbs there.

“This year, we had gone to check on the maintenance of this apparatus. But what we met there was a deluge of requests from the local people and the tribes. They said their children wanted to study but there was no light in their houses,” Upaas Unnikrishnan, a civil engineering student, said.

Children’s plight

The students said the tribal settlements were scattered – a group of four or five houses. The village itself was eight km from Bathery, the nearest town, and on the way to Pattavayal on the border with Tamil Nadu. The villagers worked for the settlers.

“Despite erratic transportation, most children were enrolled in an upper primary school at Bathery. It was heartrending to see them come back from school so far away and forced to read under an oil lamp,” Jaunty J., a chemical engineering student, said.

Sarath Divakar, who led the technical team to build the solar units, said the entire project cost was Rs.1.20 lakh. “We built the control circuit and all the other components. We bought the batteries and the solar panels. Development cost per unit was Rs.3,000. Installation in the village will cost us another Rs.1,000. All the components are replaceable and can be easily maintained,” he said.

When asked who will check on their apparatus next year, Arjun Madhavankutty, an engineering physics student, said: “Our juniors will take over next year. This year, we had gone to check on the school, but found that an entire village needs light. Next year, our juniors will launch a bigger initiative.”

Asif C. Jabbar, in his third-year electronics, points to the quote from Mother Teresa on their brochure: “At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we received, how much money we made, how many great things we did. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was homeless, you took me in’.”

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