Descendants of slaves, the Kalunga people living in remote communities in Brazil that have been in darkness for ages can now heave a sigh of relief with the advent of electricity in their domain, courtesy of the NGO Litro de Luz which has come to teach the villagers how to turn discarded bottles into solar-powered lamps.
The most modern edifice in that community is São Domingos’ Church made up of traditional adobe buildings, which also serves as the community center, and now in extension, a workshop where locals are busy piecing together a technology to transform life in the village.
São Domingos is only around 350 kilometers from the capital, Brasilia. Yet time seems to have stood still here, deep in the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park where the Kalunga people have lived for three centuries, accessible only via bumpy gravel track.
Kalunga has the biggest population of slave descendants in Brazil. Their ancestors were slaves in the surrounding goldmines who escaped to live in the Brazilian wilderness, for fear of being recaptured the Kalunga shunned the outside world with some communities until as late as the 1980s.
Today they still live without basic infrastructure. The needs of minority communities are often neglected in Brazil — particularly if they live in remote areas, of which there are many in the world’s fifth-largest country.
“We’ve been virtually forgotten here,” says 62-year-old Adir Sousa. “We have no one to help us. We have no roads, no clean water, no high school, and no electricity. We have nothing.”
Sousa, a member of the Kalunga Association of São Domingos, is trying to improve life in the village. And things are beginning to look up: The community has been formally recognized as a Quilombo, one of the thousands of communities across the country descended from slaves.
That means they can access state support for farming, building and education. Many hope it will usher in a new era of infrastructure development.
Meanwhile, Sousa has come to the church for a more immediate solution to one of the problems of living so removed from the comforts of modern life.
`Like most people here, Sousa is a subsistence farmer and even at his advanced age, he has to work the land each day. When darkness descends, the village falls silent.
“To live without electricity is to suffer,” Sousa told DW. “You can’t do anything. You have to wait for the next day, until its light again.”
“If you charge the lamp every day, it’ll give light for five hours straight and last a good two years,” a young girl beams.
Across Brazil, around a million people aren’t connected to the power grid. Litro de Luz, which was founded in 2014 as an offshoot of the award-winning organization Liter of Light, says more than 10,000 Brazilians now have light thanks to their bottle lamps.
Bottle lamps aren’t just for homes while solar streetlamps now illuminate the village, too
As dusk closes in on São Domingos, the bottle lamps come on in streets and homes. Behind glowing windows, families enjoy the freedom to study, work, eat and socialize late into the evening.
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