Lamp project is enlightening for villagers and student
In parts of rural India, when the sun creeps below the horizon, a darkness so complete descends on rural villages that it can be difficult to see the hand in front of you.
Working alongside other students, Kelsey Torchia, a Rochester native and a College of St. Benedict senior, is helping to bring light to some of these rural enclaves through a solar lamp project.
"It was a very challenging trip," said Torchia about her five-month stay in India earlier this year, "but it was the most incredible experience in every way possible."
The lamps extend the day for these rural villagers, allowing the children to study and parents to cook within their circle of light. The lamps also are safer and cheaper to maintain than the kerosene lamps that rural Indian families traditionally use.
In the villages where the lamps have been handed out, a festival-like atmosphere has reigned, Torchia said. The events bring out the entire village as the children line up to receive the lamps.
"It was basically Christmas times three," Torchia said. "They're very shy but have the biggest smiles. They were glowing internally."
Handing out the lamps has not been Torchia's only role. Torchia also directed the making of a short documentary that chronicles the impact the lamps have on village life as a way to raise awareness and money for the project.
The daughter of Michael and Patricia Torchia of Rochester, Torchia said she was attracted to India by the chance to immerse herself in another country's community. As one of 12 students from St. Benedict who studied abroad in India, Torchia felt like a pioneer, belonging to only the second cohort of students to travel to India as part of a new study-abroad program.
Torchia was placed with an Indian family in Calcutta, a noisy capital of 15 million people in the Indian state of West Bengal.
Torchia said her host family lived next to a huge downtown market, and parades up and down streets were part of the daily rhythm of life. The city never seemed to sleep. While there, Torchia attended school at St. Xavier's University, a Jesuit college with strong ties to St. Benedict.
But it was through her internship with the Association for Social and Environmental Development, a nongovernmental agency, that Torchia was introduced to village life in India. And that experience was as different from city life as "night and day."
The Sundarban region where Torchia worked is a river delta region south of Calcutta. It is a land of scattered thatched huts where people live off the land as farmers or fisherman. Many of these villages live without electricity, so when the sun sets, the area is engulfed in darkness. It is to these areas that Torchia and her fellow students brought the lamps.
The lamps, which cost $25, are connected to a solar panel, which is placed on a roof or kept in the sun for charging. It takes four to five hours to charge the lamp on a sunny day.
Torchia said the project has reached 10 schools, each serving between 800 and 1,600 students. More than $12,000 has been raised since the project started in 2011, and the hope is to raise another $10,000.
Three months removed from her experience, Torchia hankers to return to India. Having made a difference in five months, she imagines what can be accomplished in an entire year.
"It's lit a desire to return," she said.