Illuminating India’s communities
Our #AECOMBlueprint Travel Grant blog series takes us to India, where two of our employees from Australia joined Pollinate Energy’s Professional Fellowship program, which supports the organization’s work to promote safer, more affordable, clean-energy solutions for the country’s urban slum communities, and this is part one of their three-part story.
In late August, after a week of traveling through northern India, visiting the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, I arrived in Lucknow for the Pollinate Energy’s Professional Fellowship program. Although I thought I had done enough research before jetting off, nothing quite prepared me for the colorful chaos.
In a short time, I experienced the beauty of traditional Indian-Mughal architecture during sunrise at the Taj Mahal; I witnessed the generosity and “guest is god” philosophy of the people as I was warmly welcomed into their homes with offerings of freshly brewed masala chai; and I discovered that road lanes and line markings were merely suggestions, adding to the madness of dodging cows, goats, chickens, camels and even elephants!
After meeting with the fellowship team and settling into our dorms at the ‘Hive’ (brace yourselves for bee-related metaphors), we familiarized ourselves with our new city through an “Amazing Race” like tour around Lucknow, where we completed challenges, tasted local delicacies and were blessed in a temple.
On the second day of the program, we visited our first slum community called Balu Adda. Known as a shanty community, meaning that homes are essentially tents made from spare material such as tarpaulin and sheet metal. It houses around 115 families who are predominantly construction workers or rag-pickers (people who rummage through refuse to salvage materials to sell).
Balu Adda is just one of 370 urban slum communities in Lucknow. Many of these slums are not connected to city grid electricity or water supply, forcing people to forego these necessities, or resort to unsafe practices and products. Families rely on harmful kerosene for lighting, drink unclean water, and cook with dirty cookstoves resulting in detrimental health consequences. Witnessing this firsthand was a sobering and eye-opening experience, and further demonstrated the importance of our contributions over the next two weeks.
My colleague Jack Blackwell, as well as Aditya Vikram Singh, a local Pollinate fellow, and I worked together to develop the strategy and impact assessment of Mobile Hives in the slum communities. Mobile Hives are set up to showcase Pollinate Energy’s solar lights, water filters and safe cookstoves to the community, whilst educating families about the social and sustainable benefits of the products, which ultimately helps to improve their standard of living.
These first few days were an overload of information and the Hive was already buzzing with ideas!