From where I stand: “I can build a solar lamp in twenty minutes”

Martha Benavente, from Tucurú, a small municipality in Guatemala trained for six months to become a solar engineer, and she is bursting with energy. She can’t wait to start building solar lamps so that her community can have sustainable energy at last. One solar lamp could sell for up to 200 Quetzals, a lucrative business opportunity for a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Date: Thursday, May 31, 2018

Martha Alicia Benavente. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Martha Alicia Benavente. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

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There are more than 90 families in this community, none of the homes have access to energy.

Seven months ago, the Mayor of Tucurú selected me to go to the Barefoot College in India to learn solar engineering. I said, give me thirty minutes to think about it, the Mayor said, you have fifteen.

When I got on the airplane and it took off, I screamed! It was my first time, flying over the Pacific Ocean.

I used to be a domestic worker at a professor’s house in Tucurú before joining this programme. My day started at four in the morning. I would wake up early to go to the mill to get the corn for the tortillas for my children. Then I ran to work by 6:30 am. At my employer’s house, I cooked, swept the house, did dishes, showered the children and took them to school… and then ran to pick them up from school in the afternoon. For all this work, I got 500 Quetzals every month. It wasn’t enough to meet all our needs.

The six months I spent in India at the Barefoot College were also not easy. I got sick, and sometimes wondered if it was better to remain a domestic worker. But little by little, I learned everything. I learned how to make solar lamps.

Look at this solar lamp that I made at Barefoot College. Before I had the lamp, I used to spend 5 – 10 Quetzals every day to light candles. Or we would stay in the dark sometimes, because the store wouldn’t give us credit to buy more candles. I had to finish all my chores at home by 7 p.m.

Now, if I have all the materials, I can build a solar lamp in 20 minutes!

Right now, the biggest challenge is how to put into practice what I learned in India and to train more women. There are many mothers here who want to learn and who can benefit…I just need the materials to build lamps.

My dream is that my community benefits from solar energy. I made a very big effort to go to India, not only for me, but for the whole community. People come up to me and say, we are so happy that you’re back. Now we will have light!”


SDG 5: Gender equality
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Martha Alicia Benavente, 45 years old, is a mother of four children whom she raised alone after her husband passed away. She has recently graduated as a solar engineer from the Barefoot College in India, through the UN Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women implemented by FAO, WFP, IFAD and UN Women in Guatemala, and funded by the Governments of Norway and Sweden. Her story relates to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; as well as SDG 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment and SDG 8, which promotes decent work and sustainable economic empowerment for all.