Solar Panel Portraits in  Pa Dan Kho Village.
Pa Dan Kho Village, Burma.Ruben Salgado Escudero - UN-Habitat
Solar Panel Portraits in  Pa Dan Kho Village.
Ko Win Zaw Oo, 38, fisherman and father of 2 by his boat in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State.
Mg Ko, 20 years old. A Shan farmer with his cow in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State.
Ko Ba Aye, 26. and his 1 year old son Sai Kaung Htet Mon outside of their home in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State.
Nyi Min Htut (46) & Cho Cho Win (40) are married and own a bettle-nut shop powered by solar light. Minglar Don Township, 20 km north of Yangon.
Daw Chit Mone, 36. A 'red angel' or midwife in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State. Midwives have long played a crucial role in Burma, where more than 70 percent of the nation’s 60 million or so population lives in rural areas, often without access to hospitals. The country’s public health spending is among the lowest in the world, with only about 3 percent of the government’s annual budget allocated for health care. A shortage of doctors and nurses, who are posted at hospitals in cities and major towns, has meant that midwives, in some villages, are often responsible for much more than maternal health.
Daw Mu Nan, 45, a Padaung farmer and mother of 8 at her grandson's home in Pa Dan Kho Village, Kayah State.
Construction workers dig a household latrine in Pa Dan Kho Village, Kayah State.
Pa Dan Kho Village, Burma.
Ruben Salgado Escudero - UN-Habitat
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Transforming Lives in Burma, One Solar Panel at a Time

Oct 23, 2014

Ko Win Zaw Oo is a 38-year-old fisherman living in a small village called Lui Pan Sone in eastern Burma. Early each morning, the father of two boards his small boat to go fishing. His daily catch, as well as his second day job, help sustain his family.

Earlier this year, however, his life changed when he received a solar panel from the United Nations' Habitat program. “With [electric light powered by] the solar panel, this fisherman can now prepare his boat one hour earlier every day,” says Spanish photographer Ruben Salgado Escudero. “This allows him to be more productive, catch more fish, and then go on to his other job.”

In a country where only a quarter of the population has access to electricity, these solar panels offer a connection—both literal and figurative—to a better life.

“I was working for the Habitat program, documenting their infrastructure projects across rural Burma, when I started noticing these solar panels,” Salgado Escudero says. “For a lot of families, this is the first time they've ever had access to electricity, and I wanted to know how their lives had been impacted.”

To illuminate his nighttime portraits, the 35-year-old photographer used the very same tool that has transformed his subjects’ lives. “It’s a simple system with five LED bulbs attached,” he says. “Twelve hours of charging provides twelve hours of reliable light. And, unlike candles, the bulbs are very safe since they don’t heat up.”

Each solar panel costs around $75, which, for NGOs, is a relatively cheap way to bring power to remote areas of Burma that won’t be connected to the country’s electrical grid for years, if not decades.

“The point for me is to raise awareness about the lack of access, but also to influence and motivate organizations to look into solar power as an alternative to help countries such as Burma,” Salgado Escudero says. "It’s a very fast and quite affordable solution to a huge problem.”

Ruben Salgado Escudero is a Spanish photographer based in Burma. Follow him on Instagram @rubensalgadoescudero.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ olivierclaurent

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