The Women Of Sulu-an Island vs Climate Change

Picture this - you’re sitting at home, having just thriftily batch-cooked all your lunches for the week. They’re boxed up in tupperware and about to go in the freezer. Then POP – the power goes out. It doesn’t come back on.

Not high enough stakes?

You’re typing a document. It’s an important assignment and you’ve been writing it for days. It’s got to be emailed in the next hour or it’s useless. POP. No power.

OK. One more.

It’s 1am and your drunk flatmate is making himself a cheese, marmite and honey sandwich (yep, THAT drunk). The knife slips, he cuts himself, and just as you get to him...POP. Pitch black. No way to see how bad it is. No way to help him.

All these scenarios would be incredibly annoying, perhaps even dangerous.

Now, let's spin the globe halfway round its axis, to Sulu-an, the eastern-most island in the Phillippines and see how the people there handle similar situations. Sulu-an is home to 1500 people. It was the first place hit by super-typhoon Haiyan 5 years ago – ripping out the coconut groves and leaving the islanders with just one way to make money: fishing.

The problem was, the island has never been connected to the electricity grid. So, when the weather was too bad to get the catch to market immediately, there was no cold storage. Fish just sat in boxes in the port, going rotten.

The women of Sulu-an decided to act. With Christian Aid’s help, they formed a co-operative 15 strong, called Sulong Sulu-an and began using some of the natural resources they had in abundance: ingenuity, determination, and sunlight. Their first project was a solar freezer - selling ice to keep the catch fresh and saleable.

Many homes on the island have solar appliances: perhaps a few bulbs or phone-chargers, but the problem was that people didn’t know how to fix them themselves when they went wrong. So, Sulong Sulu-an trained their members through Solar apprenticeships: teaching them how to fix Solar Home Systems, the details of preventative maintenance, and how to run their own TekPaks (small, solar-powered, portable generators).

This has been particularly useful for Jocelyn Naing, the local health worker. She’s qualified to fix and maintain the island’s clinic’s Tekpak – which is good news, because, as she says, it’s pretty great to be able to see the patients when you are operating on them.

Alma Latina, the President of the association, knows that a lot of the changes the island is experiencing (increasing acidity in their seas, stronger typhoons, salinated wells due to sea-level rise) come from climate change. Generously, she’s not prepared to lay the blame exclusively at the feet of the power-guzzling developed world. She says

“Nature just gives back what we did to it. But if we keep using solar power, the Island will light up and be more progressive.”

Sulo means ‘light’. And this group of women really are beacons of hope.