LIVING LIGHTLESS - Young adults flee darkness
In 1892, Jamaica became one of the first countries in the world to
receive electricity. This was only 13 years after Thomas Edison invented
the electric lamp. Now, more than 120 years later, there are some
Jamaicans still living without electricity. These are their stories.
'From them leave school, because no electricity is not here, they want to go out into the world'
Nadine Wilson, Gleaner Staff Reporter
Armed with a two-litre bottle wrapped in a plastic bag, 73-year-old Lincent Haughton braves the midday sun to go in search of kerosene oil. The kerosene is a necessity for Haughton and other residents of Angel Land in North West Manchester as they do not have electricity supply.
The senior citizen has decided against connecting wire from his house to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) power delivery line located in the main square in his community, although several of his neighbours have seen this as the way to experience the conveniences enjoyed, legally or illegally, by thousands of other families across the island.
But his decision has meant a less-than-satisfactory way of life. "It's a burden," Haughton told The Sunday Gleaner during a visit to the area recently.
Like Haughton, 41-year-old Jacqueline Johnson has to do without electricity because her house in the nearby Mayfield district, with approximately 1,000 residents, is considered too remote for the JPS to extend its power supply.
"It rough, man, but we have to gwaan, until we get it, if we are going to get it," said Johnson.
Unfeasible to extend grid
Haughton and Johnson represent a little less than three per cent of the Jamaican households that do not have electricity. In his 2013-2014 budget presentation, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell argued that it is uneconomical to extend the national electricity grid to some of the areas where these houses are located.
"Many are in remote areas more than three kilometres from the grid, and extending the grid to them would be economically unfeasible," said Paulwell, even as he expressed optimism that this could change with the advancement in renewable energy technologies.
Paulwell said then that he had mandated the Rural Electrification Programme (REP), which has since been rebranded to the Jamaica Energy Solutions Ltd, to find energy alternatives for these households.
Johnson, who is a mother of five, said all of her children had to do their studies with the use of kerosene lamp while they were going to school. However, as soon as they were old enough to leave the community, they never looked back.
Her daughter, who had managed to achieve six grade ones and three grade twos after sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate at the Balaclava High School, decided to board away from home while attending the Northern Caribbean University, and has refused to return to her community now that she has graduated from the Mandeville-based institution.
"From them leave school, because no electricity is not here, they want to go out into the world," said Haughton.
With little options to entertain herself at home, Johnson, who is a farmer, said she tries to overwork herself on her farm during the day, so she is exhausted by the time she gets home. This way, it is easier for her to light her lamp and go to bed as early as six o'clock each evening.
Some nights, the single mother ventures to her neighbour's house where she treats herself to a few hours of watching television. Her neighbour has also been kind enough to allow her to store her meat in their fridge and charge her mobile phone.
But Johnson's neighbour, Thelma Longmore, said they have to pay a huge price for enjoying such luxury. When it became obvious that their pleas for electricity were falling on deaf ears, Longmore partnered with another neighbour, two years ago, to purchase wire and hire private electricians to connect it to the JPS main power line in their community square.
"It was very expensive because we had to pay quarter of a million dollars alone for just the wire, and after we put it up, we had to go and buy more again because somebody stole 1,000 yards of the wire," said Longmore.
She told our news team that she and her neighbour have to put together each month to pay the electricity bill from the JPS. She said that although they can only manage to operate a fridge, a television and a few bulbs, their bill amounted to $16,000 last month.
"We bought a brand new washing machine and deep freezer, but we can't even operate it because the electricity can't manage it."
Ellise Elvy, who was born in the area, believes the community is not populated because there is no electricity. She said she has heard several people express their desire to live in the community when it is finally connected to the national electricity grid.
"Nobody not going to leave the light and come live without it," declared Elvy.
She and a few of her neighbours were able to get some help in connecting their houses to the electricity supply at an Adventist church in the town square, but the voltage is very low.
"At night-time, we only run two bulbs and if we plug in the iron and you have the light on, everything goes dim. We can't run anything else besides the iron, so when we are going to iron, we have to make sure plug out everything," the farmer said.
"When my mother was sick, it was terrible to store her things, because her medication, when doctor giving you they say you should keep it refrigerated; we have to buy igloo and buy ice. It's terrible, we are living like we are in Cudjoe days," she said.
Member of Parliament for North West Manchester Mikael Phillips said that while Angel Land has been approved by the REP to receive electricity this financial year, residents of Mayfield would have to wait a while longer because the agency is underfunded.