A Blind Spot in Modernity

Photos and Text by: AC Dimatatac for Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC)

“Number 1 na problema dito yung kuryente. Wala kaming kuryente. Mahirap pag walang kuryente. Kasi example lang yung mga bata pag nag-aaral sila sa gabi,wala kaming kuryente. (Our number 1 problem here is electricity because we don’t have it. It’s hard not to have electricity. For example, the children are having difficulty in studying especially at night)- Jocelyn Naing, Mother, Sulu-anon.

Sulu-an is an island barangay in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Philippines which stretches about two kilometers along its coastline. It is home to over 1,500 residents, who are mostly fisher folk. This easternmost island in the Philippines has no electricity up until this time because of their remote location from the mainland. This is where super typhoon Haiyan first made its landfall almost six years ago.

You can reach the island via small motorized fishing boats. They set sail in the morning because wind directions shift by noontime. Travel time usually takes about 2 to 4 hours depending on the tides and wind direction. It is best to visit the place during summer season.

Sulu-anons were used to managing drastic weather conditions such as strong typhoons and hot summers. However, they had been experiencing more changes as of late. According to them, their groundwater has become increasingly salty because the coastline has been receding throughout the years. They also shared that they had been experiencing extreme heat lately that has become unbearable for some causing health issues.

The absence of electricity has also been deterring essential livelihood activities. Despite all these, the Sulu-anons have somehow collectively found ways to cope with their situation. They discovered the potential of solar energy. When Typhoon Haiyan struck, humanitarian organizations arrived and taught them how to tap solar energy. They received solar lamps to aid them is domestic activity. However, these lamps could only do so much. Therefore, a local organization set up by women, “Sulong Sulu-an” (Onwards, Sulu-an) focused on augmenting their knowledge on solar technology.

With the help of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), Sulong Sulu-an members were trained how to harness solar energy and to power devices and small appliances that they use in their households every day. ICSC started their engagement with the community last 2015, they have helped set up solar street lights in water stations in the barangay and a solar beacon for the fisher folk.

As their knowledge on solar technology developed, the community thought of more collective projects such as setting up a solar freezer in a convenience store. The island was named after the Filipino word “sulo”, which means torch or light. The people of Sulu-an have lived up to their name, lighting the path towards climate resilience and low-carbon development.
Sulu-an is at the forefront of climate change impacts, it is also in the forefront of urgent climate action.

This is my on-going story on renewable energy efforts in small islands in the Philippines. Photos were taken from 2017 to the present.