Lit UP!: Solar lights for child headed households

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Lit UP!: Solar lights for child headed households

Pitseng, Lesotho
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In the mountains of Lesotho, the first generation to enjoy free primary education stand poised to lift their country out of poverty. Yet — most rural households do not have access to electricity, so children study by candlelight or kerosene lamps. From the time the sun rises until it sets over the mountains every night, students are busy fetching firewood, collecting water, tending their fields, and — if they are very determined — attending high school. With even one solar light, families can enlighten their nights.

Enter Christopher and Michael. The pair are the first wheelchair-bound kids to attend an academic secondary school in this southern African country. Their cerebral palsy is no disability: they are fearless in their pursuit of their dreams. Mike and Chris want to pair new solar innovations with a business model that will change lives: all for a few dollars per home.

Chris and Mike's solar powered, super-bright lights replace candles and kerosene with an entirely renewable, clean, and long lasting light source powered by the African sun. Mike and Chris have developed an ingenious business model that places them as solar distributors, with the initial market coming from NGOs in the region who provide social welfare support to orphans. To get started, they seek investors and loans through social enterprise and micro-financing. Their hybrid model will create livelihoods while brightening futures.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

HIV/AIDS has taken a devastating toll on southern African families. In the area where Lit UP! will serve, one in three households is made up of orphaned children. Very few homes have access to electricity. Access to school is incredibly important, as a place to learn, to play, to find support: as well, the school lunch is often the only meal orphans receive in a day. While Lesotho is ahead of many of its neighbors in meeting the Millenium Development Goal of free universal primary education, students do not always succeed. One major barrier is the lack of study time in a day for kids who are also responsible for caring for younger siblings, household chores, and working in their family's fields. Poor households rely on expensive candles and dangerous kerosene to provide what little evening light they can afford: reading by a kerosene light is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, while the smoke and CO2 coming from the world’s fuel lanterns is equivalent to the exhaust from 30 million cars.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Simple and bright, the Nokero (no-kerosene) solar light system is a durable, long-lasting and renewable source of light. For a few dollars a household, families can extend the hours in which they are productive, and students can reliably study in the evening without endangering their health and safety. Ensuring that children don't miss school because they have not had the time to prepare in the evenings will improve educational outcomes for AIDS affected households for whom success in school is a ladder out of poverty. Solar lights also offer added security to families headed by younger children, providing protection from animals and other night-time intruders. Coupled with an initiative to spark entrepreneur-ship among youth with disabilities, the distribution of Nokero solar lights in the Lesotho highlands will provide income generation for sellers, along with training in micro-loan management and business skills.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We will be working through a long-standing community based organization, Phelisanong (Together We Work for Life). Phelisanong is a community centre that shelters, educates, and trains people with disabilities from birth through to adulthood. The project is a living example of how those who come from behind often become leaders. Lit UP! project innovators Christopher and Michael are perfect examples of this spirit. Their simple model involves purchasing Nokero solar lights in bulk, based on a combination of business micro-loans and investments from supportive donors. The lights will be marketed and sold throughout the Mphosong District in highland Lesotho; the initial market will be other NGOs working to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children (Sentebale, World Vision, Gro Foundation, UNICEF), with the goal being that charitable buyers will subsidize the lights for others. Lesotho has a thriving NGO sector with several charities devoted exclusively to welfare support for orphans and vulnerable children. Additionally, the Lesotho royal family has a special program to support orphans in the Mphosong District through donations of necessary items. The Nokero lights will provide a viable, safe, and cheap alternative to candles currently distributed. The buy-in by NGOs and state customers will allow for the subsidization of Nokero lights for other private buyers in the region, spreading the technology further and hopefully sparking a renewable energy buzz which will extend to a market for further low carbon technological solutions.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Solar technology is available in Lesotho but is currently limited mainly to large format photovoltaic panels, requiring batteries to operate. Not only are such systems expensive, but the glass panels are heavy and fragile, making them inappropriate to be operated by children. The lightweight and durable Nokero systems are unrivalled by even technologies from China, which retail for nearly twice the price and are not accessible in rural areas. The biggest challenge will be simply the lack of disposable income of target market, a threat to success which we hope the NGO subsidy plan will help to overcome.