The project begins at the Marina, and through a crowd-funding exercise, it is likely to reach the rest of Chennai

After sunset, it is a struggle for street vendors. If they are lucky, they will have a street light shine on their wares. Or else, they have to carry gas lanterns to work. For women street vendors, sunset brings the added issue of safety.

Taking these challenges into account, a Bengaluru-based architect and urban professional joined hands with Wasted Solutions, a waste management company in that city, to provide solar-powered lamps to women street vendors

Aakarsh Shamanur started a crowd-funding campaign to give away 250 solar lights to women vendors. Last year, he kickstarted his campaign in Bengaluru called ‘Be Po-Lite’ and around 200 women vendors received the solar lamps. He is now bringing the campaign to Chennai and the pilot project begins with the Marina beach.

“Through a survey, Be Po-Lite’s volunteers found out that evening hours made the best time for business for street vendors. However, without proper lighting, many of them struggled to conduct their businesses. We also wanted to promote entrepreneurship among women and provide them with better and safe working conditions,” says Aakarsh.

Ann Anra, founder of Wasted Solutions, says that in Chennai, the project will begin with the distribution of solar lamps to women vendors at Marina beach.

“There are hundreds of women vendors selling fish, vegetables, snacks and other products on the shores. The lighting is often inadequate and they struggle to do business in the dark and many vendors spend a lot on gasoline lamps and inverters which is not a sustainable option. But with solar lamps, they will have more visibility and safety at lesser cost and they need not worry about working post-sunset. The charging points will keep their phones charged and help them accept payments through mobile wallets,” she says.

Aakarsh says the portable solar lamps have been designed by him with inputs provided by the street vendors themselves. Each lamp has a 3-watt LED mini tubelight, 5-watt solar panel and a light-weight battery.

The panel needs to be kept under sunlight for six to eight hours and can be used up to four hours at night. The panel also comes with a charging point.

The lamps are contract-manufactured and the cost of production for each lamp comes up to ₹3,000. The vendor will contribute ₹500 and the rest of the cost will be met through crowdsourcing, which will take care of the 3-year warranty service.

Aakarsh says that the lights are designed in such a way that they can be easily repaired by local technicians and each part is easily replaceable.

“There isn’t any plastic in any part of the lamp and all the parts have recycling value. The lamps also come with a video instruction manual to help the vendors understand their functions,” he says.

The ‘Be Po-Lite’ campaign is also trying to reach out to resident welfare associations to partly sponsor the lights if they would like to empower the women vendors in their own neighbourhood.

“We welcome representatives of residents’ welfare associations and corporates to identify vendors in their areas who could benefit from the initiative. The lamps will be provided only after proper verification by volunteers. We have also geo-tagged the vendors so that their location can be pinpointed,” Aakarsh says.

The crowd-funding campaign will be open for contributions on milaap.org.

For more details about the initiative, call 96066 77223.

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