By Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
RATHER than complain about the heat this summer, how about harnessing the power of the sun to bring electricity to a poor community?
Earlier this month, the Manila city government lit up 120 houses at Baseco Compound in Tondo by installing “solar bottle bulbs” on the roofs.
The cheap, solar-powered bulbs are actually just clear plastic soda bottles filled with a mixture of purified water and chlorine or bleach which is commonly used in household cleaning products.
Each bottle is then inserted halfway into a hole made on the roof of a house. Sealant is applied to prevent leaks and the end result gives the impression of a small, plastic chimney.
The bulb gives off light equivalent to a 55-watt electric lamp as the water inside the bottle refracts sunlight and other exterior light.
One such bulb now lights up the makeshift house of Melinda Jose, 44, an informal settler at Block 5 Extension, Bagong Lupa, Baseco.
Her house, which shelters her and five other family members, including a baby, has pieces of plywood and woven mats for walls.
It has just enough space for a little more than two wooden beds placed closely together. It has no windows and the only way the family can get both light and ventilation is by leaving the only door “a piece of plywood” open. At night, when they close the door, they light up a candle or, whenever they can pay for it, turn on the sole electric bulb inside their house.
Jose sees the solar light bulb as a bright idea that can help her family cut on costs.
“We have to save. My husband is a contractual carpenter and we just get by. We have to pay the P800 monthly rent in addition to food and water expenses, my grandchild’s milk and other needs,” she says, motioning to a baby sleeping in a cradle.
Her only problem with the solar bottle bulb is that it’s too bright. “I get dizzy just looking at it,” she says with a laugh.
Her mother, Nimfa Baylon, 64, sees the solar bottle bulb as a way to prevent fires.
Baseco is known to be a fire-prone area, what with the dense cluster of houses made mostly of light materials.
Jose and her family, for one, are still waiting for a government-subsidized home after their old house burned down in 2001.
Hope for bright future
Jose continues to hope for a future as bright as the solar bottle bulb. “There is no security here. Our houses might get demolished or razed any minute. But we are thankful for whatever help we receive. I hope to own a house one day,” she says.
The solar bottle bulb is an innovation developed by students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The idea is actively being promoted by MyShelter Foundation Inc. in the country under its “Isang Litrong Liwanag” The Solar Bottle Bulb Project? which was launched in San Pedro, Laguna province early this year.
The chlorine and bleach “poisons” the water to keep molds from developing so the solution can last up to five years. The use of distilled or purified water is encouraged to keep the water clear for refraction.
It only costs P100 to P200 to make a solar bottle bulb.
The Manila City government and Meralco shouldered the expenses for making the bulbs while MyShelter Foundation trained residents on how to make them.
Mayor Alfredo Lim said he was hopeful that the other houses in Baseco, as well as those in other depressed communities in Tondo like Parola, Isla Puting Bato and Happyland, will soon be equipped with solar bulbs,
Glynn Montero, 29, a native of Cebu province who now lives in Baseco with her husband, is thankful for the new light source.
“Now we can have a well-lit room for our child,” says the eight-month pregnant housewife.
In their second-floor room above a small store, they open the lone window in their house or use a flashlight whenever it gets dark. Now, they rely on the solar bulb.
The light it brings parallels Montero’s sunny disposition through rough times. She cracks a joke about how she thought the grass would be greener in Metro Manila but discovered otherwise when she came here.
“We’ll move to a better place someday,” she says, her bright smile lighting up their room.