The first thing people ask after meeting me is, ‘Of all the places in the world… how did you end up in the Philippines?’ While this isn’t an easy question to answer in a couple of sentences, I believe it comes down to my passion for creating social and environmental change. Originating from Australia (currently not the world’s most environmentally-minded country) I moved to Germany in search of greener pastures and to study for a Masters degree in Environmental Governance. After a year of theoretical study, I wanted some practical experience that involved both policy-shaping and a hands-on, bottom-up approach to solving environmental issues. Eventually I stumbled upon iCSC which seemed to fit my search perfectly! So here I am in Tacloban City, a place very different from home.
I’m currently working with iCSC on RE-Charge Tacloban, an initiative that aims to create a solar-powered public transport fleet. Public transport in Tacloban has been in demand since Typhoon Yolanda; especially along the city’s University Belt which is the planned route of the new solar-powered vehicles. People living in the temporary tent communities still lacking power for the majority of the day will also benefit from the solar mobile power stations that the project’s vehicles shall provide. Solar-powered public transport seems like the perfect solution to a lot of problems and coming directly from a year of studying in Germany (arguably the solar capital of the world), it’s surprising that I’ve never seen or even heard of solar powered transport before. After much research I discovered Germany is yet to adopt a solar-powered transport model even though they certainly have the capacity, not to mention the reputation. So why is Tacloban, a small city devastated by Yolanda just 9 months earlier, ahead of the rest of the world in the sustainable public transport sector? The resilience and innovation of the people living in Tacloban is immediately obvious. It’s ingrained into the typhoon-prone city. But I think it’s more than this. The benefits of the solar-powered transport are multiple and easily recognized by the people.
I expect the electric Jeepneys and multicabs will initially be a hit due to their reliability and questions on whether the system is cost effective or not. Perhaps people will also see the usefulness of their application at an adaptation level, with their ability to provide dependable transport and power directly after a natural disaster when diesel is in short supply. But I also hope that they will encourage people to think about why solar and climate mitigation is important to them, a thought process which could potentially lead into other lifestyle changes. Maybe it will even inspire other communities and countries to do the same (‘Hello Germany… Australia? Can you hear me?!’).
Of course with all the excitement of starting work with iCSC, a small but passionate and fast-moving organisation, I’m getting ahead of myself. But after just one week with iCSC I’m a convert ….to solar and a bottom-up approach that thinks long term. I’m astounded that other countries aren’t doing the same.# Main photo by Teddy Arellano