I co-founded the Global BrightLight Foundation with Joe Hale, one of my associates from Duke Energy, with the hopes of helping people in rural, energy poor communities improve their lives. In the ensuing years we’ve distributed about 60,000 solar-powered portable lamps in Rwanda, Zambia, Peru, Haiti, Uganda, Nepal, Bolivia and Guatemala. That makes us one of the largest distributors of lights on the planet. Our driving idea has been to make the lights sustainable, both in terms of the environment and the economy. We surmised that it was important for people to have ownership of their lights, in order to give parity to all involved in the transaction. The Global BrightLight Foundation is a charitable organization, but we are striving to make it as economically self-sustaining as possible.
One of our most rewarding projects has been distributing lights to the Kiziba refugee camp, in western Rwanda, hidden in the hills near magnificent lake Kivu, along the border with the Congo. For this project we partnered with a lanky young 33-year-old American named Sam Dargan, who has lived in Rwanda since he was 19 years old. He has worked in solar most of that time, and is the founder of an innovative solar service company in Kigali, called Great Lakes Power.
Kiziba was established in 1996 to provide shelter to Congolese citizens fleeing the violence in their country, on the other side of the lake. The various rebel groups that have been terrorizing Uganda for over 20 years are now referred to as, simply, “the men with weapons.” They make normal life impossible, and so the camp houses about 18,000 people in a 28 hectare town divided into 10 neighborhoods. Approximately 600 refugees leave the camp each year to be resettled in countries around the world, which doesn’t put much of a dent in the population.
While the Global BrightLight Foundation believes that people are more motivated to care for equipment if they’ve purchased it and own it, this was difficult to accomplish in Kiziba, where there are few jobs, and the economy is based mostly on barter. We had hoped to subsidize the cost of each $25 lamp we distributed, but quickly found that even asking as little as $1 per lamp was too much. So we decided that anyone could earn credit towards a lamp by performing various types of community service, such as planting some trees on nearby hillsides denuded by the refugees in their endless search for firewood instead of paying cash. The lamps were a great success. Not only did they make day to day life easier for most people in the camps, but they reduced the incidence of sexual assault that sometimes took place when women would walk down dark lanes at night to get to the latrines.
We’d like to continue this work around the world.
Global BrightLight distributed solar lights to 3,700 households in the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda, with a tremendously positive impact on people’s lives in the camp. This video, which was produced by Sam Dargan of Great Lakes Energy, and filmed by What Took You So Long, beautifully illustrates that impact.