This programme began with a Participatory Video project carried out in Turkmenistan’s Kara Kum desert in 1999. High levels of outward migration were threatening the long-term survival of these remote deserts villages. Community members had talked about their visions for their village. Many felt that electricity would improve their lifestyles and encourage people to stay in the desert.
It was also important that communities filled the void left after the collapse of the top-down, Soviet system. This required better cooperation within villages and a greater capacity for community action. Only then could villagers start to address issues, which threatened to squeeze out further families. ‘Garregul’ - a film made by the community, helped raise support among the international donor community and InsightShare’s “Solar Power = Community Power” project was born, enabling the community to take action and address these key issues they had identified.
You can read more about this project on the Communications Initiative website by clicking here.
The installation of solar power is combined with the creation of a communally owned flock of sheep. Each family exchanges 1 ewe + 1 female lamb for their solar panel. These animals become the collective property of the village and are used as a community action fund. As this flock increases in size so too does the villagers’ resource base for carrying out their own community action.
InsightShare facilitators helped the villagers develop a community action plan outlining the improvements they wished to carry out in their villages over the next 3 years with the help of the newly created community flock. The wider community was involved at every stage. The members of each household were fully involved in the installation of the Solar Panels. In this way they learnt how their system works and how to carry out routine maintenance.
Villagers elected a person to look after the community action flock and another to represent the interests of the village and check on the growth and condition of the flock. In line with their traditional practices the shepherd should achieve at least an 88% birthing rate and was entitled to keep half the lambs as his payment. Everyone was satisfied that this arrangement would avoid misunderstandings or mistrust.
“Last year (3 yrs into the project) we were able to hire a tractor to dig our Oy (rainwater catchment). This should be done every 3 years, yet for 15 years we have been unable to do it” - Head of family, Garregul village
“We used to knit socks by the light of smoky kerosene lamps. Now we can work better and we don’t choke on the fumes.” Local woman
“Electricity is helpful. It is good to watch the news; good for education, good for your life. If you don’t have a radio or TV you don’t know what’s going on.” Chary, local youth
The participatory approach we employed shifted thinking and practice in the wider development community in Turkmenistan:
“Insight’s bottom-up approach has yielded very real successes in Turkmenistan. The success of the solar project has opened doors, not just for Insight’s projects but for development here in general.”
MA Development studies student, Dublin University
“Mr Lunch has proven emphatically the need to directly involve recipients to obtain realistic sustainable results from minimal funding. The results are remarkably evident today and have provided the stimulus for amendments to our future action plans in this sector.”
M.Wilson, TACIS coordinator and EU Advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan
With any community action it is important to get the whole village onboard. Women in this part of Turkmenistan do not usually attend community meetings. Making sure their voices were heard without showing cultural insensitivity was a significant challenge. House to house visits by the facilitator team ensured their views were heard and represented. Sometimes video was used to document important community meetings and enable women to feedback their own ideas/suggestions in private.
Participatory Video was also used for monitoring & evaluation purposes: Villagers interviewed each other about their feelings on how things were progressing etc. We found that people were more likely to speak their mind to one another than to an outsider, especially the women. All footage was played back to the whole community at evening screenings, ensuring transparency and making sure peoples ideas and opinions were heard by all.
“The solar panels were donated to the project but in order to create lasting benefits the idea of swapping a ewe and lamb for the panels was developed. In one case one of the heads of households refused to pay his share. After trying to reach an agreement and suggest loans between his extended family and neighbours it was clear that we had to take action. We were forced to remove his solar panel and pass it to another family. This was a very difficult moment for us, we didn’t choose to do this work in order to act like policemen, but it was a critical test. Had we decided to overlook this lack of payment it would have destabilised the project and others would have been resentful for having to pay for their panels.”
from Chris Lunch’s facilitator diary
“If there is a well which is not working properly or there is one which collapses or we need to dig a new one, that is the time we will use this flock.”
“Insight’s Solar Power = Community Power programme is the best example of grassroots development I have seen in this country”
HM British Ambassador for Turkmenistan.
“The remarkable thing about this project is how Insight uses the solar panels as a catalyst for community development. The concept of combining these two is something new and it makes sense”
Shell country director, Turkmenistan.