What Can a Single Flashlight Do

By Anna Sidana
Founder, One Million Lights
July 29, 2014
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Original article here

When a child is born, leaving the warm comfort of its mother’s womb and bursting into the world with a cry, there is hope. Hope for the mother that her child will be amazing, will achieve greatness and be a compassionate human being. Hope in the community that the child will be a responsible citizen, defining the future and the continuity of life itself. Hope for the siblings to have a playmate, a brother or a sister, a friend.

The child itself is full of wonder and amazement at what the world has to offer. Hopeful even in the remotest areas of the world with the minimum of worldly possessions. There is a spark in the child’s eyes and a will to survive.

When I traveled to the remotest parts of the world, I met these children. Living on farms and in small communities, going about their daily routines, laughing and paying like any child. Whether it was in the remote, sandy desserts of Rajasthan, India or the villages above the tree-line in the treacherous Andes mountains of Peru. These young, innocent and beautiful children went to school, played in the fields and had the same dreams as children anywhere. They wanted to be doctors, teachers and engineers, go to Bollywood and Hollywood. They wanted to travel the world and no obstacle was going to stand in their way. These children were an inspiration to me.

I also met children whose eyes looked down. They were dull with pain and trepidation. That look of defeat, fear and sadness. Beaten down by illness, hunger and rejection. I wondered at the contrast. I wondered if I could do anything. That was my catalyst to find something that would revitalize these spirits and bring the spark back into their lives.

Back at home in California, I stumbled upon the humble solar flashlight at Stanford. Giving a solar light to each child is a simple idea. The light is durable, practical and affordable at less than $30 per light. The benefits of solar are also manifold. Solar energy is abundant, free, healthy, and renewable. Advances in solar are happening across the world. There are solar highways, solar farms, micro-grids and the modest solar light. It is for us to harness this source and make the most of it.

However, many question if giving a simple light will do any good. Issues related to the lack of access to lighting are widespread across difficult geographies, very complex and large than life. Kerosene is responsible for millions of deaths every year as well as many tonnes of carbon emissions into our atmosphere, daily. In addition, de-forestation is a somber issue as rural, non-electrified communities cut down forests to burn wood for fuel and lighting. How can a mere flashlight help? Where is the proof?

I agree. These are important factors. We cannot underestimate the scale, nor can we overlook the need for appropriate measures to assess the impact. We need tangible proof of the resulting impact — the school grades of recipient children, the health benefits of removing toxic kerosene from the atmosphere, the reduction in deaths. But are we measuring the right things?

My question to you is — how do you measure the glimmer of hope in that child’s eyes? The desire to go out and be great. The desire to achieve and improve their lives.

I found that solar lights are an enabler and as fundamental as food and water.

A solar light is not the same as a handout such as food or medicine. Those items are for one-time consumption. Of course, in areas of geo-political unrest and poverty these consumables are essential.

In communities that are relatively stable and exist off the electric grid, light enables children to read stories at night — something we take so much for granted, and adults can do housework without tripping over uneven floors. Light is empowering and provides the incentive for someone to take the next step. In fact, it makes them do the work themselves, unlike a handout. These disconnected communities require access to healthy light to improve their lives, make progress and connect with the rest of the world. The benefits might not be directly or immediately measurable — but the impact is unquestionable.

When I give a solar light — I look for that spark. I believe that the humble flashlight can do a lot — it can provide hope and be life-changing.