Changing Lives, One Light At A Time

April 30, 2012, 3:26pm

MANILA, Philippines — In this digital age, where we see technology advance in the blink of an eye, it is ironic that there are still a lot of people who are still in the dark—literally.

According to the International Electricity Agency, the number of people without access to electricity in 2009 is an estimated 1.3 billion, almost 20 percent of the world’s population. In the Philippines, more than 15 million Filipinos in 2,270 barangays are still without light. To compensate, families use kerosene lamps, candles and makeshift wood that are dangerous to their health.

Non-profit foundation One Million Lights’ (OML) advocacy is helping people with no access to electricity. No access impedes their lives, robbing them of opportunities to improve their situation. Global company Energizer’s latest campaign platform “that’s positivenergy” meanwhile, goes beyond selling products to various markets. In a surprising twist of fate, these two found themselves working together with the same vision—changing lives with every light they give out.

Founded in 2008 in Palo Alto, California, OML aims to provide one million lights to communities and families without access to electricity by providing them with solar-powered lights. It was started by Anna Sidana, who at first was just wondering how to be more involved in the school her father put up in India. Working in e-Bay then, she saw that students back in India were having a hard time with school; without lights, it was difficult for them to study at night. Soon, OML found more companies donating lights.

“In the next few months we were trying to figure out where to give the lights,” recalls Laura Chao, program manager of OML. “So it was exciting last year when Energizer sponsored and donated 11,000 lights so we can give these organizations the lights that we previously didn’t have,” she says.

A Chosen Country

Here in the Philippines, things are also looking bright. “We had the Energizer global night race wherein we pledged 11,000 solar-powered lights in 2011,” shares Joan Mendoza, Energizer Philippines brand manager. Part of the proceeds of the global night race was donated to OML headquarters in Palo Alto. Unknowingly, one of the four countries to be given the lights apart from Ethiopia, Argentina and Kenya was the Philippines. “Actually we are the country who is receiving the most number of lights among these countries; in Asia we are the only one,” informs Mendoza.

Why the California headquarters chose the Philippines is largely due to OML’s Philippine chapter headed by then PAREF students Mark Lozano and Tricia Peralta. Lozano and Peralta first thought of giving solar-powered lights during a debate tournament last year. Lozano recalls that the group of students was just discussing things they could actually do to save the environment, from planting trees and recycling, when Mark suddenly found himself blurting out: “What about solar-powered light?”

Silence ensued. “The others didn’t believe that it was possible but I suddenly thought I really wanted to do it,” shares Peralta, who right then and there started looking for a community to benefit from the project. Lozano, on the other hand, would find his Global Youth Leaders Conference (GYLC) experience handy in connecting to people who would lead them to OML. After several meetings with the international organization, sleepless nights and solicitation rejections, OML Philippines had its first distribution in Barangay Dugui Too in Virac, Catanduanes.

Positive Energy Can Spark Change

Fueled by the success of their first distribution, Lozano and Peralta, together with their closest friends, started planning their next project. Back in California, Energizer asked OML to suggest a beneficiary-country for its solar-powered lights.

“We suggested the Philippines because we have such a great Philippine team,” says Chao, who admires how Lozano and Peralta have been heading OML’s Philippine chapter. While most countries have partner NGOs, Chao said setting up a chapter here in the country came as a natural thing with the young group’s dedication to OML’s advocacy. “It just sort of played out—originally they were just fund-raising, and politely doing distribution…they distributed 250 lights to Catanduanes last year,” Chao says, “then, after that, they wanted to do more distributions, they continued to fund-raise, they continued to try to grow the projects here.” Today, OML Philippines has nine core members and around 60 volunteers that include Rotaracts and school organizations.

The first beneficiary of OML-Energizer partnership was Barangay Puray in Rodriguez, Rizal, where 100 solar-powered lights were distributed. Another 400 lights were given recently to 11 towns in Oriental Mindoro, with the help of the Rotary Club of Victoria and Caritas Manila. Most of the beneficiaries here were Mangyan natives. They are set to go to Eastern Samar, Kalinga, Apayao, Ifugao, Mountain Province and Catanduanes for the rest of the summer.

The solar-powered lights are not yet available in the market, making the distribution even more special. “It is not as available as we would like it to be in the Philippines, that’s why it’s unique; at the same time it also brings us to the grassroots communities,” says Mendoza, who admits that this is different from the event-based donations they have done before. “[With] this one,” she says, “we are actually the ones who travel to reach the communities we are helping.”

Mendoza says they are supporting OML not only with the product, but also with propagating the advocacy on sustainable energy. “We see the need for sustainable energy,” she says. “Sustainable meaning clean and safe. [Since] Energizer has this technology and capacity, we are able to fund these kinds of projects and we’re grateful to OML because they are our arm in distributing these products,” she adds.

And it’s not free in its strictest sense. The beneficiaries were asked to pay P30 per lamp (almost the same amount a family spends for kerosene) as maintenance fee. In a way, this will instil ownership among them and will deter them from selling off their lamps.

“It is more to alleviate the condition of living of these communities, to see that there is actually progress,” explains Mendoza. “It is bringing technology to them, and integrating that technology into their lives…these people are so simple and they do not have the same access to technology or science as we do. So for them to actually have this technology is truly something,” she says.

For a company that claims it is “constantly improving our green portfolio products,” this partnership with OML is just the beginning of Energizer’s campaign to promote positive energy. For OML, it is still a long journey to reach the one million mark. Yet seeing the grateful faces of their beneficiaries and getting feedback on their improved lives are more than enough to keep them going.

“It’s not just a literal light,” says Peralta. These solar-powered lights bring enlightenment not just to the households and communities, but more so to the ones giving them. “For us, it really boils down to people wanting to help [but] they just don’t know how. So it inspired them to give back to the community, as opposed to just giving donations,” she concludes.