Mirjana Škrba is Chair of SolarAid board, who has taken on the challenge of spending a Night Without Light. She spent the evening using only the power of solar light, to experience what it’s like for the nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without electricity.
My night without light started at about 18:30 on Friday 16 September 2022, when I logged off after another busy day spent at my computer. My family and I had committed to spending the night without light to raise vital funds and awareness for those living in energy poverty across the African continent.
After leaving the desk, I faced my first challenge – it had finally dawned on my eight-year-old, despite numerous reminders in previous days, that a life without electricity means no screens! Once we came to an understanding, we sat down to dinner. Due to my lack of forward planning, we made do with some sandwiches – thank goodness for pickles! It’s clear our diet would be very different without refrigeration and various cooking appliances. We could not think of many things that didn’t require any ingredients from the fridge.
The radio stayed off, so my son provided a news summary – sadly the Queen has passed away, there are still internet issues on our street, there is a fly infestation in our house and the weather is set to be cloudy and not too sunny. The fly infestation was a bit of an exaggeration, but otherwise, I was impressed. For pudding we both had a craving for hot chocolate, but alas, it was not to be – no kettle, no cooker.
As the evening closed in, we decided to do a bit of drawing with the help of our solar light. Instead of copying a picture from the iPad as we usually do, we picked one from a book. It was touch and go at the start but in the end, we were reasonably pleased with how our field voles turned out, both of whom flew through the air with the help of some action lines, ending up in outer space!
As the day turned fully into night, Bill arrived home from work and switched off the circuit breakers. He meant business.
Next task in our unelectrified home: bedtime. Our son used the small solar light as a head torch. It instantly lit up the room, helping him prepare for going to bed. There was some protestation about the digital clock staring blankly back at us – he would have to remember to tell analogue time once more. But, following a short revision session about which hand would be where at waking up time, he settled down to sleep.
In our house, usually after dinner and bedtime, the adults relax in the warm glow of the TV, but without electricity this wasn’t an option. I begrudgingly joined a solar lit game of Wingspan, a board game about collecting birds. In the end, it was good fun – I won! I think the spoonbill clinched it for me, being worth six points! Anyway… our pet hamster Harry seemed to prefer the dim lighting of the solar light, when it was time to give him some exercise and food for the evening.
During the night our heating didn’t come on and the temperature dropped to 6C, making it colder than it has been for a few months. In the morning, cooing pigeons woke us up at exactly waking up time, so our son didn’t need his clock after all.
This experience reminded me once more just how dependent we are on reliable access to all kinds of energy, especially electricity. Humans have mastered creating electricity, and in the UK, we forget that it is a privilege and right we take for granted. In the wider world the disparity between those who have access and those who have been left behind, is huge. Those without electricity are at a huge disadvantage. In Malawi, only 4% of rural communities, who make up 86% of the population, are connected to the electricity grid.
It is easy to see that providing rural families with simple, reliable solar lights is simply life changing. It is a small step in creating a brighter future for people and the planet. At the flick of a switch, light brings safety and opportunity.
I would like to thank all those who have donated to this important campaign and Bill, who kindly filmed our experience. If you’d like to experience a Night Without Light, there’s still time to sign up, and I’d encourage everyone to join.