By Steve Welch, president of the Rotary Club of Northwest Austin, Texas, USA
In the squatter’s village of San Mateo, Belize, my Rotary club is providing solar lights for more than 100 school children who previously attempted to study by candle light. We are working in partnership with the Grid Earth Project, which was founded by members of our club, a charity dedicated to providing solar powered lighting to replace other dangerous light sources used in remote areas of the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.5 million people die each year as a result of using kerosene, candles, or other unsafe and toxic fuel sources to light their homes after dark. These deaths occur from explosions, burns, aspiration, and respiratory illnesses.
In San Mateo, the use of candles was resulting in many burn injuries, and it limited the amount of time a child could read to about 30 minutes before the candle burned out. The light provided by a single candle is extremely inefficient, providing only a small percentage of the recommended light for reading.
After these lamps were distributed to the children, burn injuries decreased instantly. What was previously a daily event is now a rare occurrence in San Mateo. Additionally, the reading scores in all grades improved dramatically because children could spend more time reading and had sufficient light to study.
The children of the Rehma Orphanage in the Korogocho slum outside Nairobi, Kenya, were also attempting to study by candle light. As in San Mateo, these wonderful children were so anxious to learn that they were willing to risk burns and scars to be able to read a book. Today several of the solar lamps from The Grid Earth Project are being used by these children who huddle together under them. They need more, and fortunately, we will be delivering 100 more solar lamps soon.
In addition, the club is providing solar lamps to the Maasai, a semi-nomadic indigenous tribe in Kenya and Northern Tanzania; and two more villagers in Central America in coming weeks.
With these projects, our club is lighting the darkness that so many live in at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, creating permanent change and providing hope and opportunity for those who need it most. Will you join us?