Written by Tom Rosen – Co-Director/Project Manager

The flip of a switch now brings the immediate benefit of solar lighting to the residents of Koung Jor Shan Refugee Camp but what are the long term effects of this landmark undertaking?

Our solar panel project had three main objectives – to reduce fire risks in the thatched houses, to allow the children to study after dark, and to allow each Camp household to save money. The residents previously spent high amounts on expensive candles and kerosene lamps.

Fire risks have been put in the spotlight due to the recent tragedy at Site 2 Refugee Camp in Mae Surin.  This devastating fire killed 38 people, injured more than 100 and left over 2300 residents homeless. Now that the Koung Jor community has a safe method of lighting their homes, they feel much safer. Local resident Nong Kam Kham explains: “I am very happy to be using solar lighting as my little girl was previously badly burnt from a candle and still carries scars. I have safer light for my children so I wish you a brighter life!“. As evidenced in Mae Surin, fires which occur in refugee camps cause long term devastation. Therefore, by reducing this risk, a community can focus its efforts on sustainable living.

The benefits of children being able to study after dark hardly need explaining. As the students’ grades improve, so does their ability to enter higher education.  This advancement provides them with better career opportunities that not only benefit them, but generations to come. Loung Kaw La tells us of the immediate effect: “I can see that my son’s English is getting better as he reads out loud at night”. But even with these successes, it might take awhile for the full effect to become apparent. With the youth of Koung Jor more likely to obtain higher paying jobs, they can in turn contribute back to the community that provided them this opportunity.

Now that the solar panel project has been fully implemented, Camp residents are saving an average of $7 USD per household per month. These savings allow them to buy their own yellow beans (one of the only sources of protein they have access to due to their geographical restraints). Originally, TBF supported Koung Jor by providing the community with yellow beans,  and now we no longer need to do so as the community usesits own money to buy this invaluable food source.

I hope that this project illustrates how bringing one sustainable solution to the Camp has had far-reaching effects that foster further self-reliance and sustainability within the community.

We at The Branch Foundation are very proud to have played an instrumental part in this endeavour and I hope that we can bring projects like this one to other communities in South-East Asia.