Last week saw the UK launch of the International Year of Light, the UN initiative to promote the importance of light in tackling development issues.
The launch took place at St James’ Palace, a building with a long history of Royal residence. A grand setting with some esteemed figures, but the SolarAid ladies weren’t to be overwrought by the occasion. HRH the Duke Of York, the patron for the IYL 2015, and UK Science Minister Greg Clark were two of the senior figureheads, alongside our very own Director of Research & Impact, Kat Harrison.
Kat delivered a rousing account of the power of small hand-held solar lights on the developing world, and received a warm reception from the eminent figures. A copy of Kat’s speech can be found below.
“I’m privileged to be able to talk to you today on behalf of the many people that we work with; to use their voices to share the impact of light.
At SolarAid we believe that universal access to energy holds the key to a fairer and more just world. Clean, safe lighting is the first step towards that ambition for rural families in Africa.
We are helping to catalyse a market for portable solar-powered lights to ensure they are available and affordable to people living without electricity
That’s why I’m delighted that the International Year of Light is recognising the potential for solar lighting in developing countries across the world. We know just what an impact lighting has on peoples’ everyday lives and opportunities.
For over 1.5 billion people around the world, night time brings darkness or the dim lighting of a kerosene lamp or candle.
Kerosene lamps are polluting, costly and dangerous, yet for many, the dim light they provide is their only source of light after dark. Light is essential for allowing families to lead safe, productive, and happy lives.
In fact, in the words of a gentleman from the Ministry of Education in Malawi, where I was last week, “light is life.”
The impact of a solar light goes beyond just the light it brings though: When a family in rural Africa has a solar light, they save money as they’re able to charge their light by the free power of the sun and reduce their spending on kerosene and candles. They tell us they spend their savings on food, education costs and farming inputs contributing to their future development.
Their children are able to study for longer each evening as there are fewer worries about finding the money to buy kerosene. We know that when children do well at school, they are more likely to stay longer and gain a higher level of education benefiting themselves, their families and their communities.
Their children’s teachers tell us that they see more motivated children who are better able to concentrate and contribute in class, and the teachers themselves use the lights to improve the quality of the education they’re able to give.
The whole family are able to improve their health by reducing the amount of toxic smoke they inhale from burning kerosene lamps.
The solar entrepreneurs they bought their solar light from are flourishing as the opportunity to make solar lights available is increasing their income and the resilience of them and their families.
The wellbeing of so many is increased by having the time and opportunity to keep their family safe, reduce the risk of fires, and have time to socialise and spend time together as a family.
Lastly, we can all benefit as for every solar light bought, one kerosene lamp is packed away meaning that these solar lights are contributing to reduced carbon dioxide and black carbon emissions; the top two climate warmers.
At SolarAid we have thousands and thousands of stories from people using kerosene and solar lights, and it’s often the personal stories that I hear that really bring it home just what opportunity solar lights bring.
From the heartbreaking story that Bogere in Uganda told us of his neighbour sadly losing her children when her house caught fire from a kerosene lantern; to the heartwarming story of Stanslus, a grandfather in Zambia, who told us that the solar light brightens his house and means that his grandchildren can play around without fear of being bitten by a snake.
I’m delighted to be a part of the UK launch of the Year of Light, which is particularly exciting for SolarAid as a UK charity with support from the UK government – in fact, the government are doubling any donation for the next week.
For those of us that grew up in a world where light was taken for granted – and perhaps indeed the risk of being bitten by a snake was minimal – this is the time for us to take the opportunity to support those who live in the same world but aren’t able to expect the same access.
These little solar lightsmay be small, but they have such a large and far-reaching impact. I hope that this Year of Light will help us to reach so many more of the 1.5 billion without light.
After all, light is life.