Watts of Love is committed to bringing people the power to raise themselves out of poverty by providing safe and sustainable solar lighting. The Watts of Love team traveled to Mozambique, Africa, in November 2015 to distribute 600 solar lights in the city of Pemba and remote villages in the bush.
In Mozambique, there’s no light pollution from street lights or large cities, with limited electric power throughout the country. When the sun sets, it’s pitch black, and not everyone can escape the darkness with the flip of a light switch. Those who don’t have access to electricity or solar power must either remain in darkness or use expensive, unsafe and unsustainable lighting methods to illuminate their homes.
IRIS Global first reached out to invite WOL to come to Mozambique. The trip took nearly 2 years of careful planning; from fundraising, manufacturing and exporting the lights to Africa, to arranging the travel logistics for 12 team members.
In Mozambique, widows and single abandoned mothers make up a high percentage of the population. They have few opportunities to make money, and most have multiple children to take care of. The mission of WOL was to empower these women and others, and help raise them out of poverty by supplying them with solar lights so they could spend less money on dangerous kerosene, charge their own cell phones, and use the solar lights to extend their productivity. The money they save — and earn in their micro-businesses — can be invested back into their family to buy seeds, chickens, goats, pigs or cows.
Watts of Love works hard to identify people who are the most needy, usually the elderly, single mothers and the sick or disabled. It’s a difficult job because there is always so much need and not enough resources, and Mozambique was no different. IRIS Global helped the Watts of Love team select people around its base in Pemba and in the bush.
“Near the base, it was mamas and the elderly, John Economou said. “In the bush it was tribal leaders, mamas, elderly or families in need. This trip was unusual because about 75-80% of our solar light recipients were women.”
Every family member who will use the solar light is invited to the information session to learn. The awe is evident on each person’s face as they learn how the solar light is safer and brighter than kerosene, can be recharged by sunlight, charge cell phones and other small electronics, and more.
In addition to providing light and charging capabilities, the Watts of Love solar lanterns also provide the joy of sound. Many recipients have never heard a radio broadcast before, much less listened to music or an audiobook. These lights also feature a FM radio, MP3 player and USB ports so users can download files from flash drives.
Watts of Love solar lights allow mamas like this to care for their children in a safer environment and extend their productivity past sundown. Many of the mamas have micro-businesses sewing and making crafts or jewelry, and the solar lights also give many of them the added ability to charge cell phones for others during the day.
The majority of homes in Mozambique are simple one- or two-room houses constructed with sticks and mud. Electricity is a virtually unknown commodity to most villagers. Their homes don’t offer much protection from biting ants, poisonous snakes and other predators. Mothers who have young children must either care for them in complete darkness once the sun sets or — if they can afford it — light a kerosene lamp, which exposes her family to toxic fumes and puts them at risk for severe burns.
In addition to distributing solar lights in Pemba, WOL made two trips to small villages out in the bush. Packing the trucks for our trips into these remote villages was a team effort. There was no water, food or shelter available in the bush, so each journey to the bush took careful planning and packing for a group of 35 people. This outreach would not have been possible without the assistance of IRIS Global, who provided security, translators and transportation into the bush.
“The drive was on dirt roads for hours with red sand and dust blowing all around, covering everyone in red dust, John said. “It was hot and uncomfortable sitting on backpacks and long boards for hours, but the camaraderie was amazing and you got to know all people really well and get close very fast.”
We were overwhelmed by the abundant excitement and joy displayed by the villagers as they surrounded us upon our arrival. Their singing and yelling needed no translation by the Portuguese and Makhuwa interpreters we had with us.
In each village, we’d set up our tents in a secure location, prepare dinner and eat with several hundred villagers — usually huge kettles of rice and beans. Later, we’d meet with the tribal leaders, who helped us identify the people in their village who they believed would benefit from the solar lights the most.
For many people, it was the first time they had ever received a gift, and to receive such a life-changing one had a profound impact on many. It was amazing to see people swell with pride and empowerment when they received their solar lights and realized the power they held in their hands, a light that would give them new opportunities to raise themselves out of poverty.
The mission of WOL is to break the barriers keeping people in poverty by providing them with solar lights and bringing them out of darkness. Light is a precious commodity. Worldwide, 1.6 billion women, men and children live without electricity. According to the World Bank, dependable lighting could have the single biggest impact on raising living standards, promoting economic and educational opportunities, and improving health for the poor.
The goal of Watts of Love is to continue its mission to provide human beings with one of the most basic of necessities that many of us take for granted. The cause is ongoing as long as there are people living in darkness.
Written by Lisa Florey
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