No más noches oscuras

Meet the Colombian town that just got electricity for the first time

The nights are no longer pitch dark in Gualajo. Neither are the days. This town, more than 1,000 km south of the Colombian capital and only 34 km from the border with Ecuador, was until recently one of the few settlements without a secure and constant supply of electricity. Today, gas lamps and candles are a thing of the past.

“I believed that energy would never come,” says Jesús Alfredo Castro, a 92-year-old farmer who has lived for 72 years in the community. “I’m happy that energy has arrived. To me it feels grand,” says Jesús.

Until December 2018, these communities had electricity for only a couple of hours a day, mostly from polluting and low-quality energy sources such as car batteries, kerosene lamps or firewood. That same month, the electricity service began operating in the community’s 189 homes and four schools. The 900 inhabitants of the four zones of the Gualajo River Community Council will now have continuous power service.  

The project, which involved an investment of $ 2,604 million Colombian pesos or approximately US$774,230, is the first one to go on stream through the Colombian government’s Todos Somos PAZcífico Fund. The fund seeks to contribute to the social, economic and environmental development of the country’s impoverished Pacific Coast.

The plan also promotes access to reliable, efficient and sustainable electricity. The IDB has assisted this process in Colombia with US$91 million in financing to bring electricity to 20,000 new users in the departments of Cauca, Nariño, Chocó and the municipality of Buenaventura in the Valle del Cauca region.   

The electrification project was made possible with the collaboration of Gualajo’s inhabitants. More than half of the population took part in this project. The transformers, posts and cables were taken piece by piece on boats by the community across the river. They also created a space for participatory dialogue that involved Afro, indigenous, and rural communities, as well as regional and local leaders.

The impact on education and entrepreneurship

Access to electricity not only changes life inside the home, it also touches all spheres of a community, such as its schools. Tablets, computers and the internet begin to arrive in classrooms; places that once were dangerous become safer with street lighting; children can extend their study time.  

According to UN data, in 2013 more than 188 million children went to schools without electricity, a shortcoming that has serious consequences on the quality of learning. In a study we conducted in Brazil, we found that electrification has a direct effect on school drop-out rates in rural areas. We also found that schools electrified between 2013 and 2016 registered a 27% fall in dropout rates.  

The impact of electrification is felt everywhere in Gualajo, especially among women. As in many parts of rural Latin America and the Caribbean, female labor participation rates are relatively low in the Colombian Pacific region. However, now many of them are looking to start their own businesses.  

To Fanny Ospina, it meant a new hope for her future. “Now we are in at our next stage of development. Because we no longer depend on kerosene lamps and candles, we are looking to start our own business,” she says.

To learn more about electrification in Latin America, download for free The Energy Path of Latin America.

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