A clear plastic bottle - a litre bottle in this case - some water, bleach and a lightbulb. That’s all it takes to light a home, a street and a village. It may sound like magic but the science is super simple. Water-filled bottles are stuck into roofs to refract sunlight and bleach is added to the water to prevent algae from growing. Add a solar panel and a battery to store the solar power, and you have a sustainable source of light for entire communities!
Illac Diaz, the founder of MyShelter Foundation and Liter of Light, has taken this innovative concept around the world. The Liter of Light programme is designed to empower villagers and marginalised groups such as prison detainees and trash pickers by teaching them how to create and maintain these simple lighting solutions. We spoke with Illac to find out how this small idea came to have such a big impact.
How does Liter of Light work?
We work with female-led co-operatives and we teach them how to make solar-powered lights. By teaching them how to create these lights, these women are able to replace kerosene in their homes. They are also able to rent out these solar lights or manage mobile charging systems providing a source of income. Third, they raise funds as a village and build these lights to illuminate public streets in their villages so it’s safer to go out at night.
More than one third of each village household’s income goes to power. They spend this money on kerosene as fuel, which is toxic, a fire hazard and expensive. Our solution is different. It’s sustainable on all fronts. Our lights are made of whatever material is most easily available.
Between 60 and 80 per cent of all costs for aid is spent on logistics and supply chain management rather than helping the local population. To keep logistics costs down, materials for the solar lights are brought back to the village when the farmers return from the city (where they sell their produce). We meet these men, typically the husbands of the women who make the lights, at the markets, and we provide them with the parts that they might need to fix and maintain the lights.
These solar lights can be made and maintained with resources that are easy to find and with basic technical skills. We believe that if you cannot make and repair it on a village level, then it’s not an appropriate solution to the problem.
What makes your model different from other charities?
Our strength comes from the masses. When we have to lift a heavy burden, we come together and lift at the same time. (Because of the number of natural disasters the Philippines experiences) we're always receiving aid and help and are often considered the victims and not the superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, we are very grateful for the help but the more I have done this work, the more I realise we should be able to save ourselves.
Superman is not coming when there are large scale storms that affect multiple nations at the same time. There are more frontline communities that are experiencing calamities. Aid is increasingly fragmented as a result. So being self-sufficient is important.
What’s next for Liter of Light?
The next thing we want to do is build what we call ‘mesh’ technology.
When we started, we taught female-led co-operatives how to make solar-powered lights. Then we worked out how to make solar-powered mobile phone chargers. Going forward, we want to put these ‘mesh’ technologies in the centre of villages so they can start downloading stored information.
The first step is to create a localised intranet so they can text each other. Then we can create a localised knowledge network where villagers can download information. This would be free or cheap to maintain because we would have trained the people in these villages to maintain and fix it.
That’s the plan. But to do this, we need to ensure a sustainable foundation.That’s why we are focused on embedding the knowledge of power within the villages we work with on how they can maintain a stable source of power before we go on to the next step. The information available for download will be limited, yes, but it will be free. And that’s a good first step to improving access to information for these communities.
Psst! Here's something else you should know!
Link(s) in this article may bring you to a third party website(s), owned and operated by an independent party over which GXS has no control ("3rd Party Website"). Any link you make to or from a 3rd Party Website will be at your own risk. Any use of a 3rd Party Website will be subject to and any information you provide will be governed by the terms of the 3rd Party Website, including those relating to confidentiality, data privacy and security.