Road to radiance
Phront helps raise money to get electricity for a village in Peru
For 22 hours a day, the village of Socma, located in the Sacred Valley of the Peruvian Andes, runs merely on sunlight. But for two hours, after the sun goes down and the moon goes up, Socma is illuminated. Since early August, thanks in part to money raised by the Student Philanthropic Front, Socma has access to electricity for the first time. The electricity will allow the rural village, which is home to approximately 48 families, to open an emergency medical center and give children a chance to study at night.
Phront, co-founded by Julian Olidort '11 and Robin Lichtenstein '11 in the fall of 2008, is a student group at Brandeis that helps match student activism with fundraising.
"Essentially we elect a cause for a semester, and we do our best to fundraise for them and achieve a tangible impact," Olidort said.
Alex Ball '09 initially had the idea to help bring electricity to Socma and wrote up his plan in a proposal he submitted to Phront. Ball learned about Socma's difficulties through his work with an organization called Rustic Pathways, a group that does community service with high school students in underdeveloped regions. Ball had been to Socma, a village that only recently gained the title to its lands from its Spanish owners, several times before he realized how much the village could benefit greatly from electricity, he explained.
"I was [at Brandeis] trying to raise money by selling scarves and hats [for Socma]," Ball said. "It was the day [Phront was] having their initial [proposal] meeting, and I found out about it like 10 minutes before. . I went up and did an awful presentation but got really lucky."
Lichtenstein said that although Alex had been working on the project for some time, it needed more fundraising.
Ball said that months ago, before Socma had any prospects of gaining electricity, Socma residents found an electrical pole and carried it up a mountain to their town. To him, the villagers' willingness to bring back the pole demonstrated their determination to develop their community.
"[Due to poverty, communities in the Sacred Valley] haven't had access to electricity or drinking water. They also don't have a middle school or high school, so I was really inspired [to help them]," Ball said.
The Peruvian government is currently undertaking a national rural electrification project to help bring electricity to villages like Socma. Because of the project's significance, the mayor of Urubamaba, the region in which Socma is located, agreed to match whatever funds Ball, Rustic Pathways and Phront raised.
"Alex was very connected in the whole project because he was working with Rustic Pathways, high school volunteers and the Peruvian government, who matched our numbers," Olidort said. "[The government] sent over the people who installed the generators [through the] rural electrification company of Peru."
However, Ball explained that working with the Peruvian government was not an easy process, as they caused several problems and often made false promises. Nevertheless, news that electricity was installed came at perfect timing.
"About three weeks ago during their yearly celebration [to commemorate] receiving the title to their land, they finally got the light switch on," Ball said. "It was a really special day in the community and turned out to be a huge success."
Yet electricity in Socma is still used very minimally.
"[Socma] is in the mountains, but it's also in a valley, so there's a period of time before the sun goes down when the moon goes up, and that's when the children want to be studying. They use the lights for an hour or two at night," Ball said.
Ball explained that before they had electricity, residents of Socma would some times use battery-powered lights. However, batteries are more expensive than generator powered electricity and therefore less efficient for the community.
Phront helped raise money for the project through several events. They first went dormstorming with several other groups, including Tron, the men's ultimate Frisbee team. They also held a candygram sale as well as a "social night" at Biagio Ristorante and Bar in Waltham. Finally, they had an "a cappella-off" in which five a cappella groups competed in first-year residence halls.
Ultimately, Phront raised $1,435.86 in two to three weeks.
Still, Ball worries that the electricity project will encourage Socma to become dependent on the support of international organizations.
"It presents some problems in my mind, because our concept of development with electrification, ... and sponsoring it with outside funds ... creates some problems with dependency," Ball said.
In the future, Ball still plans to work with villages in Peru and hopes to help build a high school dormitory for young girls in an indigenous community in Peru.
Olidort nevertheless stressed the positive impact electricity will have on Socma.
"It's essentially their key to education, medical attention, international and even national relations," Olidort said. "Really basic things they didn't have without electricity.