For 11-year-old Gurmet Angmo, life revolved around the sun. All her chores and homework had to be done before the sun went down, especially during the winters when the sun would set much sooner. And her parents would restrict her from going out once it got dark because wild animals would move around.
At 11 years of age, Gurmet saw a light bulb for the first time during her trip to Leh. To her, that light bulb represented endless possibilities for her remote and darkened village of Sumda Chenmo in Markha Valley.
Today, 36-year-old Gurmet Angmo is a solar engineer working with the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE). She has been involved in electrifying villages in Ladakh and Meghalaya with solar power.
GHE is an organization that uses tourism and technology to bring solar energy to remote communities.
They use a portion of the expedition fee to fund the capital cost of the hardware, transportation, installation, and training of village-scale solar micro-grids. They won the 2020 UN Global Climate Change Action Award.
Despite her intense love for science, quality school education was difficult. On finishing primary school, Gurmet left her family behind and went to Leh in search of better education.
Her desire for an independent life saw her searching for a government job. However, there weren’t any jobs forthcoming.
“After a couple of years without work, I got married to Rinchen Namgyal, a carpenter. Soon after our marriage, we had our first child, and my focus soon shifted to taking care of my daughter. We had another daughter a couple of years later. However, things began to change when my brother, Tsering Dorjay, who was working with GHE at the time, told me about the organisation in 2015. He asked me whether I would be interested in attending a six-month solar engineering training course in Rajasthan. After encouragement from my family, I decided to take it up,” says Gurmet.
In the following year, leaving behind both her daughters with the family, she took off for a six-month training course at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan.
She underwent training to build, install, maintain, and repair solar electrification systems in off-grid villages, besides learning how to set up a ‘Rural Electronic Workshop’ (REW) to store components and equipment needed for the repair and maintenance of the solar units.
Upon her return to Ladakh after completing the six-month course, her first assignment was electrifying the Sumda Chun monastery. Then she electrified the Lingshed village in October 2017.
They had a Herculean task to electrify 97 households of the village in 10 days. Working with another colleague, however, Gurmet completed the task in nine days.
“Initially, I was worried and anxious about whether these solar sets were functioning properly. After two months, the feedback I received from people who had passed by the village was good.” she says.
Last year, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya, asked GHE to electrify a few villages in the state after reading up on their work in Ladakh.
In total, they electrified about 80 households over 10-15 days.
Thanks to the income that Gurmet has earned over the years; she has been able to open a stationery shop-cum service center for solar lights in Saboo village.
In all this, her credits for her husband Rinchen Namgyal holds no bar. “When I work, he sends the children to school, cooks and takes care of the shop. I am grateful to him for his relentless support. He says ‘my priority is your happiness and I am here to support and take care of you. So, do what you like doing the best. If it’s hard, then don’t do it.’ He is a simple yet very thoughtful man,” she says.
Despite the lack of education, Gurmet had a zest for science and the will to do something good for her village which led to her journey. Her work now has inspired other women in her and other villages she has visited.