Thousands of men, women and children who have been living in the dark in an isolated Bangladeshi city were given the gift of light on Wednesday.
Hazarbighar Char Island is home to 5,000 people and has long been off the grid due to its remote location.
The inhabitants of the island are the latest beneficiaries of the Zayed Sustainability Prize initiative Guiding Light, which aims to distribute a total of 10,000 solar lanterns to off-grid communities across Indonesia, Bolivia, Bangladesh and Kenya.
“We have selected remote off-grid areas in the mid part of Bangladesh, there is no electricity on the island and it is unlikely they will get connected soon,” said Dipal Barua, the man behind the initiative.
"Most of the people (on the island) are poor and disadvantaged.
"We believe that the lanterns that we are going to distribute will be very helpful and useful to them.”
Fishermen, women who are living in poverty, children, healthcare workers, students and local shopkeepers will all benefit from the 2,000 lanterns that are expected to light up every household on the island.
“The lights will improve healthcare as it will allow the extension of working hours in health centres. In the case of an emergency at night, they will be able to accommodate them.
“Education will improve, too, because students will be able to study at night.”
“Women’s security may also improve — previously they walked long distances in the dark,” he said.
The lights are expected to benefit the island economically as well, with shopkeepers and fishermen able to extend their working hours.
“The lanterns are very transferable, so if someone needs to go to the washroom at night they can carry the lantern with them,” said Mr Barau.
Mr Barua won the first edition of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in 2009, when it was called the Zayed Future Energy Prize. At the time, his idea was to facilitate the construction of 245,000 solar energy systems in Bangladesh.
Guiding Light, in its current form, was launched in Bahrain during a ceremony on December 5.
The first batch of lanterns were then taken for distribution in Indonesia, where they were donated to communities that have been affected by the recent earthquake and Tsunami.
Two-thousand lanterns were distributed to 1,179 Indonesian homes, benefiting 5,112 people.
Bolivia was the next beneficiary of the initiative. Lanterns were distributed to students and families living in San Juan, where residents have limited or no access to on-grid power.
"Logistics can always be a bit of an issue with regard to any activity in Bolivia; however, in terms of people on the ground — teachers, students and community members — and the support of the prize’s administration team, it has been a fantastically co-ordinated effort,” said Katsumi Bani, general coordinator for Guiding Light in Bolivia and a former two-term mayor of San Juan.
“The donation will have an immediate impact on thousands living in the municipality of San Juan, which makes this campaign worth every effort.
“Accessing these lanterns will further increase the interest of the entire population of the municipality (towards sustainable solutions). The government has a target to achieve a self-sustaining society,” he said.
“The distribution of the solar lanterns will create greater awareness of the importance of the use of renewable resources and raise the quality of life for many families,” said Mercedes Almendras, director of Global High Schools, who won the sustainability prize in 2017.
“In all the rural schools of San Juan, these lanterns will serve as teaching material and also as support to improve the performance in the teaching and learning process.”
“Mothers will be able to have more time for housework and helping the development of the family, especially in the education of their children,” she said.
After Bangladesh, the lanterns will be distributed in Kenya and the campaign will conclude in the UAE on January 9.