ChangeMakers Spotlight: Unite-To-Light

The Change Makers Spotlight is a weekly blog highlighting some of the best non-profits, businesses and individuals working to make the world a better place.

Unite-To-Light is a nonprofit that spreads solar light to people worldwide who do not have access to safe, affordable lighting. From shining light during child delivery, to scaring elephant herds away from food supplies to improving student’s education by providing them with a way to study after dark, Unite-To-Light continues to improve lives for some of the 1 billion people worldwide that live in the dark. The Esperanza Market donates a Unite-to-Light solar-powered light to a student living without electricity in Nicaragua for every purchase made on its website. In this week’s ChangeMakers Spotlight we sit down with Dawn O’Bar president of Unite-To-Light. 

boy studying in Nicaragua with donated solar powered light  

1. What is Unite-To-Light?

Unite-To-Light is a non-profit based in California that works internationally to spread solar light to people in the world without access to reliable, affordable or safe lighting sources.   

 

2. When and why was it started? 

Unite-To-Light was started in 2011 as an answer to a request from a professor in Ghana.  He asked for a product that would provide safe reading light for the students after dark. Many of them had been using kerosene which is unsafe, unhealthy and costly.  Some of the children did not have any light at all. The first solar lights were developed by students and volunteers through the University of California's Institute for Energy Efficiency and distributed to Ghana.  Now after almost five years, over 80,000 units have been distributed to people in over 66 different countries.  

 

3. What are the biggest struggles for families living without electricity? 

There are many stories of people with lung disease, eye deterioration, burns and sometimes even death simply because they do not have a healthy alternative to light at night.  Women have felt unsafe walking to the toilet outside after dark.  Babies are being delivered by midwives using only a candle, and students cannot study when the sun goes down for lack of light leading to increased illiteracy and perpetual poverty.  These are the realities for over 1 billion people around the globe.   Lack of lighting equates to continued poverty felt around the world.

 4. What are the biggest challenges for Unite-to-Light as an organization?

Unite to Light’s biggest challenges are reaching the extremely vulnerable.  These are the people that often can least afford a solar lamp.  Purchases of the small Luke Light by NGO’s and generous donors allow Unite to Light to continue manufacturing and distributing more lights. 

 Delivery is often a difficult task as well. Each country is different and some have high shipping costs and customs fees and taxes on these products.  

 5. What had been the most inspiring aspect of your job?

There have been some fabulous stories reflecting how the lights have benefitted people.

One story shared by a partner in Uganda was that the lights were being used at night to shine into the darkness and scare the elephants away from the gardens.  The elephants had been trampling their food supplies at night.  With a simple shining lamp, the elephants were frightened away and the people had food.

 The stories are not just emotional, we have data from several school principals' in a remote region of Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africathat our lights have improved test scores and pass rates by over 30%.  The little light gives students added time to study after dark.  If they pass their matriculation exams, they are able to move on to higher educational opportunities and not end up out of school with no job and no way to earn a living.  

 7 If someone wants to help out Unite-to-Light or the issue of lack of electricity in the world, what can they do?

Donations to Unite to Light will go directly to light delivery.  Our operational costs are very slim.   We have only one full-time employee and many volunteers.   Our office space is donated as are most of the services we receive.   For every Luke Light purchased at $20, another one will be donated.  Unite to Light has supplied these donated lights during disaster relief situations, such as the typhoon in the Philippines, earthquake in Haiti, tsunami in Japan, and floods in Malawi.   If someone wants to designate a location for the donated lights, we can accommodate this if we have a partner in that country.

 Volunteers are also the lifeblood of our organization.  Over 10,000 volunteer hours have been donated over the past four years.  Please spread the news and help us change lives and light the world.

For more information on Unite-To-Light go to their website at http://www.unitetolight.org or follow them on Facebook.