Every evening, many of the tiniest villages in Nepal darken with the setting sun.

Centuries after the invention of electricity, villagers rely on kerosene lanterns to light the night. Mohan Basnet wanted to change that.

By the end of June, he will -- at least for one village.

Basnet, three other University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and a partner living in Nepal planned and raised money through their project, Power a Village, to install a hydroelectric generator in the village of Hardeni. 

The project, organized entirely by the group, will provide electricity to 35 households for the first time ever. 

Basnet’s parents grew up in a village without electricity before his parents moved him to the city for a better education. From there, he headed to college in the United States.

Research to bring electricity to Nepal villages began almost as soon as he left his country.

“I realized that electricity was discovered in the 18th century and we are in the 21st century and we still didn’t have that technology,” Basnet said. “It kind of struck me.”

Basnet set the groundwork for almost two years. He recruited Nepali schoolmates Prawesh Khanal and Rajeev Neupane along the way, as well as Nepal resident Sushil Raut. Walter Bircher, a fellow mechanical engineering student, joined after he and Basnet met in a class.

“With Power a Village there are actually people from the country involved in the project,” said Bircher, who is from Omaha. “I see a lot of projects that are a bunch of Americans trying to help in a country that nobody in the organization is from, and that kind of leads me to question if what they’re doing is actually really needed by the people in the country, or if it’s just something they thought everybody should have because we have it in America.”

Kathmandu Metal Industries & Hydro Power Ltd. quoted the project with a $5,000 price tag. A team in Nepal will construct a generator station on the river, wire power lines to the village and install electrical outlets and lights in the homes.

In three months, the students raised the money needed through donations to their website and a fundraising event. The residents of Hardeni also contributed to the cost.

Villagers have been involved every step of the way. They helped dig channels to divert some of the water for the generator and built the house for the generator.

The project will be their investment, their responsibility, Basnet said.

Hardeni will form two groups: a project development committee and a consumer saving committee, each with a representative from each household in the village.

The project committee will oversee the building, wiring and technical aspects. The saving committee will collect monthly payments from the households and apply them toward maintenance and repairs.

The monthly payments for electricity will be much less than the cost of kerosene, Basnet said.

And electricity is healthier. Fumes emitted by kerosene lamps can cause respiratory problems, studies have shown, and the lamps are a fire hazard.

The mountainous villages maintain a primitive lifestyle, Basnet said. Men work in fields or the city, and women and children work at home. At night, activities are limited, but if women have light to work and spend time with family at night, they could work paying jobs or attend school during the day, Basnet said.

“People are really excited about the project,” Basnet said. He visited Nepal last winter to speak with villagers and others working on the project.

“We are hope for so many people back there.”

The project in Hardeni will serve as a model for a much larger endeavor on the horizon. Next, the students plan to install a 5 kilowatt hydroelectric generator in Baseri, a village of more than 100 people. The second project will cost more than double the first, and the funds have yet to be raised.

Basnet hopes a short documentary about the first project will encourage donations for the second. And the students are in the process of securing nonprofit status for Power a Village.

“Our goal is to help people,” Khanal said.

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Reach Jourdyn Kaarre at 402-473-2655 or jkaarre@journalstar.com.


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