Three motorcyclists on BMW dual-sport motorcycles greeted the weekend by kicking off a 19-day, 6,600-kilometer tour from the Rizal Monument to 40 rural communities that have yet to see electricity.
The three riders--rural electrification advocate Philippe Saubier, gadget fanatic Ibrahim Rasul-Bernardo, and riding veteran Antonio Villanueva--have banded together under the guidance of Solar Energy Foundation (SEF) chairman Jaime Ayala to electrify off-the-grid rural communities as a means of development. Electricity will be introduced to the communities through the use of solar energy.
"More than 20 million Filipinos live in isolated communities without electricity," Ayala said. "Life for people outside of the grid tends to be more difficult and a lot more expensive compared to those of us who are part of the 'electrified world.'"
Ayala added that people in off-the-grid communities use non-renewable energy sources like wood and kerosene to keep a light on at night and to cook food. They "also have to travel many kilometers and spend as much as P20 just to charge their cell phones in the nearest sari-sari store that has electricity."
The 19-day motorcycle tour has been dubbed the "Ride for Light" as the Saubier, Rasul-Bernardo and Villanueva--also known as Light Riders--will be donating 20 to 30 portable solar home systems, which consist of one lantern and one solar cell unit per community.
To the Light Riders, riding around the country isn't a problem since Saubier is an IronMan motorcycle veteran while Rasul-Bernardo and Villanueva have traveled to Benguet on their motorcycles twice this year already.
"It's the time constraints that we might have a problem with," Rasul-Bernardo said. "Although we've already coordinated with all the communities, we don't expect the ball to immediately start rolling once we get there. Luzon won't be a problem; it’s the schedule of the Ro-Ros in Visayas and Mindanao that we have to keep an eye out for."
With the Holy Week rolling closer, the three Light Riders are hoping to reach Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte before riding back to Manila and rest for a few days. The riders will then continue their tour in Botolan in Zambales with Donsol in Sorsogon as their final stop in Luzon. They will then traverse through rural communities in Visayas and go as far south as Malungon in Sarangani before riding northwards back to Manila as the three hope to end their nationwide tour on May 6 at the La Mesa EcoPark.
"But the ride itself is just the first step," added Ayala as the objective of the Ride for Light campaign is to link the communities it has electrified to the SEF network "so that the non-governmental organization community will be made aware of their needs, whether these be in the areas of energy, health or education."
"We also plan to have a 'Hike for Light' where hikers can climb up to communities that are in mountainous regions as well as a 'Sail for Light' where we'll reach communities located around Palawan that also have no electricity. Ultimately, the success of this project lies in the hands of partners in the corporate sector as well as in the NGO network, not just the SEF's," Ayala concluded.