Recently, on International Women’s Day, the women of Deir Kanoun Ras el Ain cooperative in South Lebanon embarked on a quiet revolution. Together with young activists from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, they completed a solar energy installation that will provide regular and reliable power — and improve women’s lives. The cooperative is proud of their work; making delicious rosewater, apple vinegar, orange sauce, apricot jam, crackers and tomato paste – all without artificial preservatives. But, like many involved in food production, the women work hard for a modest income. Before solar power arrived, machines that help in their work would often lie idle, as the women chose to work themselves harder rather than use the costly diesel generator or an erratic electricity supply. Peeling fruit, making dough and lifting heavy loads by hand is tiring. Some suffer from chronic back pain. Long hours intrude on precious family time.
In 2016, the 23-strong cooperative decided it was time for change. Together with Greenpeace Mediterranean-Arab World, they launched a crowdfunding project to install solar power to heat water and power machines to knead dough and squeeze fruit. Today they realised their dream. “I can feel that everything is about to change for us,” says Daad Ismail, President of the women’s cooperative. “Electricity shortages have hurt our productivity, our working hours and our personal lives. We know that solar energy will not only help us to cut bills, generate more income and improve our lives, but it will also broaden our horizons with new opportunities.”With a clean green energy supply in place, the cooperative is now being approached by environmentally conscious food markets who want to feature their products.
The solar energy system was installed with the help of 12 young students and volunteers from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. All living in the area, some at the local refugee camp, the students have received technical training with Greenpeace, aimed at getting jobs in the growing renewable energy sector. Working with the women’s cooperative was a golden opportunity to put their newly gained skills into practice. The cooperative now has 12 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, with a total peak production capacity of 3 kilowatts. Coupled with energy efficiency measures including LED lights, thermal insulation and a solar water heating system, this will bring great savings. The annual electricity bill could be cut by two thirds and reliance on their diesel generator reduced to a minimum.
The energy transformation at Deir Kanoun Ras el Ain cooperative is just one of the inspiring stories of women-led solar initiatives emerging across the Arab world. Irig N’Tahala Women’s Club in Morocco is another example that shows how renewable energy can bring a surge in power and confidence, when systems are designed and developed with the people they serve. Success stories like these are inspiring communities around the world to break free from fossil fuels and switch on the sun.