South Africa Reflection

A reflection on South Africa,  by: Megan Aubrey-Hughes                                                                                                    August 2014

To sum up the three and a half weeks I spent on the ground in South Africa with One Million Lights I’d say it was magical. I had the amazing opportunity to assist in One Million Lights’ largest distribution to date, and first in South Africa. With Energizer as our sponsor, we gave out 7,000 solar lights to children without electricity, benefiting about 20,000 family and community members. Talk about magical.

In my time working with One Million Lights, I’ve been impressed by many things (their unique non-profit business model, their exponential growth, their dedicated staff), but  what I witnessed in South Africa, the thing that really impressed me, was One Million Lights’ unwavering emphasis on education.  Each of the 7,000 lights we distributed went to a student with the intention of giving them safe, clean, free light to use for their studies after dark. One Million Lights believes that the access to light allows them more time to study, hence, brightening their futures by assisting their paths to becoming the next doctors, lawyers and leaders of South Africa. I’ve seen firsthand that this organization believes what will truly benefit developing countries is not just access to solar technology and infrastructure, but the possibility for growth, education and meaningful progress that comes along with investing in youth education. Check out this short video to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

(One Million Lights doesn’t only focus on education in developing countries. A program called One Million Students educates local Bay Area children about solar electricity and the phenomenon of electrical poverty.)

After some of our distributions, we would visit the homes of some of the solar light recipients after dark, when we could witness the benefit of the light in action. The most magical moment for me was the last home visit of the trip, where we met Nomvelo Npungose and her gogo (granny) Aslina Npungose. Sitting in her humble hut, lit only by the light she received, we talked about her life. Her parents had both died when she was young and she was raised by her gogo, who went to the ends of the earth to get her into school and provide the best future possible. They had never lived with electricity and Nomvelo studied only by candle.

With a permanent smile on her face, Nomvelo told us what getting this light meant to her, how grateful she was to have been given one, how hard she can study now, how thankful she was for us, how thankful she was for someone believing in her. She said the light represented hope, and that hope is life. I was moved to tears by her strength, optimism and unwavering ambition. “I want to be a social worker,” Nomvelo said. “I want to help people like me the way you have helped me.”

The true magic of One Million Lights stems from a mission that aims for better standard of living through education, affording people like Nomvelo to achieve their dreams. I’m very grateful to have played a small part in the 1,000,000 light goal, to have left the world a little better than when I found it and to have met so many amazing people along the way. It was truly magical.