Durango club brings the power of light

By Joe Williams, Rotary Club of Durango Daybreak, Colorado, USA

Most people in the United States take electricity for granted. Only if a powerful storm hits and it is taken away do we get an understanding of what it is like to depend entirely on the sun for our light.

There is, however, a significant population in the heart of the United States that lives their lives with only the sun to light the way.

The Navajo Nation is large. Our club is located slightly north of the Nation. And so our project began.

It seems a simple thing. The whole setup consists of just one, two, or three hanging lights and a cell phone charger, with a small solar panel to power it. The impact this has on the people living in the home, however, is huge. Our recipients report better health, improved grades, improved finances and generally happier lives.

Rotaractor Liz Wells shows Navajo homeowner Willie Claw how to operate his new solar lights. Photo by Derek Knowles

Elderly recipients report that they fall less when there is light to see where they are going at night. Before receiving the lights, many recipients relied on kerosene lanterns or candles, significantly reducing air quality in the home.

Due to the remote nature of many homes, children often travel by school bus for multiple hours every day. Before having light in their home, all homework had to be completed on the bus, or by candlelight or kerosene lantern.

One mother in Sanostee explained that she normally sent her daughter to her grandparents to complete her homework since they had power. She is happy that she will see her daughter more and be able to supervise the homework.

Powering evening activities with flashlight batteries or kerosene costs families on fixed income. The free solar power allows the families to spend less on fuel and batteries.

It is not unusual for recipients to stand by with tears in their eyes watching the crews install the new lights.

One woman surprised one of our crew at an event. She explained that her uncle had received a light kit a few months ago. She said that he did not initially think he wanted or needed the lights, but he loved having them. She felt that he had become a happier person in general after living with the lights for a few short months.

An important part of the installations has been to involve our local Interact clubs and Rotary Youth Exchange students. We included students from Hungary, Brazil, Taiwan, Denmark and Germany during a recent installation.

Both the elders and children discover the common bonds that tie all of us together in that moment when they turn on the light, faces shining in the glow, smiles erupting, old tired eyes looking into the bright eyes of the youth. These children perhaps for the first time see the profound difference Rotary can make in lives.

Learn more about the project

12 thoughts on “Durango club brings the power of light

  1. Joe- our club is partnering with an AZ club on a Navajo water projects. Downside is that the sponsoring club doesn’t want any hands on help. If we partner with your club, could we bring a few épilé to help?
    Greg Peterson, Lenexa KS Rotary Club


  2. Pingback: Who knew installing solar lights could have such meaning? | Rotary Club of Kalibo

  3. Pingback: Who knew installing solar lights could have such meaning? | Rotary Voices

  4. The Navajo Solar Light Project cannot thrive without the resources offered by the many clubs, Districts, Rotarians, Exchange students, places of worship, community centered service clubs and citizens of the Great Navajo Nation.

    Our club is known as the “hands on club”, but what would we be without the hands of Rotary embracing us? As coordinator of the many installations conducted annually, I gratefully acknowledge the time, contributions and dedication to supporting the elders of the Navajo Nation in bringing light to the night.

    We salute the efforts of all who have participated, but offer a magnificent thank you to the State of Jefferson Rotary eClub. Your members who travel to participate are exemplary!


    Joe Williams`


    • A timely reminder of how all of us can have real impact on people’s lives! Will feature this in our club meeting this week. This is a great example of a local community service project, even if it is not in our immediate local vicinity. Definitely a longterm project fueled by enthusiasm and real need – until every home on those remote reservations “can see the light!”


    • Joe, Craig Kravetz here, I’m in the Harlem NYC Rotary Club. I have some time off in the next couple of weeks, do you need volunteers on the Solar Project?


      • Craig,
        I am John Allman, NSL Project Coordinator for the eClub of the State of Jefferson. I work closely with Joe Williams and he has asked me to get back to you on your email below.

        First of all, thank you very much for your interest in our project that is very much appreciated.

        At his point, while the COVID-19 crisis on the Navajo Nation appears to be coming under control, we are still not able to go to Navajo lands to perform any installations. We are planning to resume our installations in the Spring (May or June of 2021) and continue through the summer. I coordinate volunteers for this project and will be more than happy to add your name to my mailing list so that you can keep up-to-date with our plans. We always welcome volunteers….for three reasons: 1) We appreciate the help and can serve that many more of the Navajo people, 2) we want to provide an educational opportunity to learn of the Navajo culture and an experience that will last a lifetime, and 3) we enjoy the Rotary Fellowship that comes with the project.

        You can always find more information on the eClub website: https://stateofjeffersonrotary.org/ or our dedicated NSL site: http://www.navajosolarlight.org

        Again, thank you for your interest and support. Never hesitate to contact me by email, text or phone with any questions you may have.


        John Allman



  5. A good innovation and great service to mankind. My club Rotary Club of Abijo, Ibeju Lekki will love to be part of this good things. I am the secretary elect of my club and we will want to do an international project in this regards for the benefit of our people in this part of the world.


  6. Considering Rotary International’s recent emphasis on clubs partnering in service projects and sharing the story, it is surprising to see this story edited by Rotary Voices omitting those very aspects. As member of a club which participated in this project since 2013, both with funds, grants, and hands-on participation, it was disappointing to read this incomplete (or heavily edited) “Rotary Story.” Our members look forward to a more complete augmented version of this success story. After all, making a difference in people’s lives is our mission and we are all making one here!


  7. I, and many of our club members are very disappointed that we, the State of Jefferson Rotary eClub (SoJ eClub) were not mentioned in your article, even though our past president and his niece, were actually involved in last years installations, and was interviewed by your reporter!

    The SoJ eClub has been a part of this project for the past four years contributing $16,000 for solar lights. Many of our members along with our our Rotaract Eclub have traveled from other states to participate in the installation or these solar lights . Why weren’t any of these mentioned?

    We currently have another $4,000, ($2,000 from a Rotary District 5110 grant, and $2,000 from our club) more to contribute again this (2017/2018) fiscal year. The question is, do we, or don’t we want to participate in this service project in the future if we are not going to get the recognition we deserve?

    I really would like an answer.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Jacqueline Oakley, State of Jefferson Rotary eClub president


  8. Pingback: Durango club brings the power of light | The Rotary Club of Carteret

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