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From survivors to disaster responders, here comes the sun in Tacloban

By: Denise M. Fontanilla

I attended the fourth Solar Scholars training of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities’ RE-Charge program last July 22 to 24. The aim of this program is to turn survivors of Yolanda typhoon into first responders should a disaster occur by equipping them with portable solar-powered gear.  Representatives of homeowners’ associations from the seaside districts of San Jose and Magallanes, who were directly hit by the typhoon, felt empowered by access to  renewable energy.

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

It got a little personal for me given that the last time I was in Tacloban was to commemorate the first anniversary of the super typhoon two years ago.

But it was way more personal for at least two of the three RE-Charge staff – the original “solar papas”. Uro Tahup, chief solar papa, had trained residents from some of these communities in disaster risk reduction two years ago. And Jesy Bachicha, an electrician and teacher who helped facilitate the training for the first time, is actually a survivor and Solar Scholar himself. He also hails from San Jose; Yolanda took about a thousand lives from that district alone, including that of Jesy’s brother.

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

It was clear that the participants – partners of Urban Poor Associates and Christian Aid were raring to learn even as they were having fun. One of them, a grandfather from Brgy. Costa Brava in San Jose, was still recovering from an appendectomy, but wanted to ensure that he learned how to operate not just a simple solar system – with a solar panel, battery, charge controller, and LED lamp – but the latest version of the RE-Charge TekPak, a suitcase which fit all these plus two more lamps, two USB ports, and an inverter.

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

Hazel Ocenar, a fresh education graduate who also hailed from Costa Brava, explained that their barangay has had no electricity since the typhoon struck last November 2013. Their HOA will be meeting soon to make the most use of the TekPak they brought back from the training.

After over three days, almost thirty Yolanda survivors from Tacloban became their communities’ solar energy pack technicians and disaster responders. It was an honor and privilege to witness their empowerment – in all senses of the word.

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

Last day of the solar scholars training here in San Jose, Tacloban, July 24, 2016. The participants show their skills through a simulation process on how they will use the tekpak units to response on emergency situations. Tekpak is a compact kit that includes gadgets that can provide light and energy through solar power, it is developed by Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) to help communities that are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. © AC Dimatatac/iCSC

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