Amaguaya lights up and begins to grow again

In 2013 Practical Action Bolivia worked with the community of Amaguaya, Municipality of Guanay Larecaja Province, in Bolivia to build a 60 kw micro hydro power scheme, financed by the Swedish Postcode Foundation.

For the first time, the 830 strong Amaguaya community together with their school and health centre enjoyed a regular, sustainable supply of electricity rather than relying on unhealthy kerosene lanterns and candles. 

"Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life." Vicente Poma

Vicente Poma Flores is 50 years old and is chief operator of the Amaguaya's hydro electric plant.  He and his wife and 5 children have lived in this community ‘since forever’.

"Having this micro hydro and through it electrification has been excellent,” says the man who bears responsibility for energy supply.

“We have got used to it now.  When we switch off it is strange because people in Amaguaya have discarded their kerosene and lighters,.  It has been a great benefit for the community, at home, at school and at the health centre, the whole population has light now." says Vicente proudly.

A year on from the installation life in this community quickly changed.  The arrival of electricity has benefited the heath centre, church goers, school students and all the families that form this community.  The modern world arrived with televisions and DVD players in some homes, bringing both information and entertainment to strengthen the tradition of sharing with the family.

Vicente tells us that the system has been working day and night for the last two weeks but at a lower voltage of 180v.  This is because a month ago a powerful electrical storm damaged the control board. He is finding ways to ensure that people continue to receive electricity while with Practical Action’s help he is sourcing the necessary parts. The knowledge he has acquired through this project gives him confidence.

"I am regulating the supply of energy to keep it warm, it is going to be solved it will be back normal." 

The machine house lies at the bottom of the 75 degree slope on which the community stands. Vicente goes down twice a day, to check that everything is working, to check the water intake, remove rubbish that collects in the protection grill and to monitor the flow of water. He carries out a monthly maintenance check on the channels to stop stones or other objects from obstructing these or the tubes.

The payment system is still being assessed. According to Vicente, all the families are making their payments, sometimes twice a month and have managed this commitment.  Even those who have been away and not used power pay what the meter has recorded. Payment slips have become part of family accounts and receipts are gathered together in a corner.

There are some adjustments to be made for the Health Centre which has a higher consumption now that equipment works continuously.  This is being negotiated with the Municipality of Guanay so that they can support the community by paying a percentage of that cost.

Street lighting has helped people to get about at night, not only those who must attend the doctor, but for people returning from work, playing sports and getting together with their neighbours. Access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself.”

"My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,” he confirms, doubtless reflecting the feelings of many parents in the community.

New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to improve the knowledge and skills of the students, with seven computers now available for students. Vicente remembers with nostalgia that when he was a child he studied with a lamp.

"When I studied, it was sad, it seemed that we were forgotten. Now we are afraid to operate the micro hydro every day, because we fear that one day it will stop working.”  Vicente explains.

The community has become accustomed to having electricity and cannot imagine what it would be like to return to live lit by the dim light of a candle or a kerosene lamp.

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