Sumba Island’s only woman solar panel operator breaks stereotypes

Vania Desiyanti, March 20, 2018

Sumba, due its remote location, has never been a priority for the Indonesian government. Until a few years ago, most of the villages in Sumba didn’t even have access to electricity, which meant that as soon as night came, all activities had to stop. Once the island started developing, this presented a huge handicap, so officials had to pay attention to the energy needs of the local community.

Manggewar Elementary School

Set in the district of Central Sumba, Sambali Loku village is home to Manggewar Elementary School, one of 25 photovoltaic schools[1] participating in Hivos Southeast Asia’s TERANG Project[2]. Launched in 2015, TERANG aims to achieve universal electrification of remote rural areas like Sumba, where the electrification ratio lags far behind national averages.

In this village, at least 50 people including the principal and teachers have been trained to operate the school’s solar panel installations. After the training, an operator is appointed to be in charge of the installation.

The only Sumbanese woman solar panel operator

Mrs. Yuni, a thirty-one-year-old teacher at Manggewar Elementary School, also works as a solar panel operator. She is the only woman operator in Sumba.

She teaches Christian religion classes, which made her a bit apprehensive about being appointed to be a photovoltaic school solar panel operator.

“I don’t have a background in engineering, but they trusted me to handle the (solar panel) installation here,” said Yuni. “Despite their confidence in me, I was still anxious about not knowing how to fix problems or damage to the installation.”

People in the village think that women only know how to use kerosene lanterns, and that it’s only the men who understand how to use modern lighting equipment or devices. Yuni has largely broken this stereotype – but she is still careful about what people think because there are special challenges for a woman solar panel operator.

“Customers often bring back their solar lanterns after 8 PM, which means I have to go home late. I’m not afraid to be outside in the dark because it’s only 200 meters away from my house, but people in this village often think that women who go outside alone during the night are “loose”, and I want to avoid being seen that way.”

Despite her modest salary of some IDR 33,000 per month, Yuni is determined to continue dedicating her life to teaching and making a positive difference in the lives of other people – especially the children in Sumba.

“I’m happy as long as the students have light so they can study and finish their homework,” she said. “Teachers have started to prepare teaching materials with computers, and exams are now typed and printed. I’m also seeing improvements in students’ scores,” she added. “So much good has happened at Manggewar Elementary School since we have electricity, and that makes me really satisfied.”

Yuni was once worried about her ability to operate a solar panel, but now she expects more technical training will greatly expand her knowledge and increase her confidence. “I want to fix it by myself, whatever the problem is.”


[1] Photovoltaic (PV) School has 0.3 kW PV that will charge solar lanterns and hand phones. The school leases out or sells 6,000 lanterns. This activity aims to address these issues and increase access to lighting and electricity for charging cell phones to improve the livelihoods of 8,000 students and teachers.

[2] TERANG is a combination of two iconic programmes of Hivos, the Sumba Iconic Island initiative and the Indonesian Domestic Biogas Programme. TERANG project is a partnership between Hivos Consortium together with Yayasan Rumah Energi (YRE) and Village Infrastructure Angel (VIA) with Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia (MCA-I) for the period of December 2015 until March 2018.