Almost a decade ago, a visiting professor from Ghana commented to the faculty at UCSB that students from rural parts of his homeland often struggle to keep up with other students in University, attributing the reason to a lack of safe and affordable lights. In many parts of Africa, students only have access to kerosene lamps and candles which are known to cause financial and health issues. The unreliability of lights results in students simply being unable to study after sunset, limiting them to about three fewer hours of study than a typical American student.
If we assume that a student loses out on three hours of studying five days a week for the 36 weeks in a school year, then the student loses a total of 540 hours (22.5 whole days) of studying in one single school year.
In response, UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency partnered with Engineers without Borders to create safe and affordable solar lamps, culminating in the creation of Unite to Light, a nonprofit dedicated to manufacturing and distributing these lights to people without access to electricity. Since its founding, Unite to Light has distributed over 100,000 lights to more than 75 countries. With special attention given to those passed over by other organizations (children, women health clinics, midwives, and victims of natural disasters), Unite to Light operates on an identical model as the TOMS shoe brand, where one light is donated for every light purchased. Additionally, those who wish to buy lamps and hand them out to those in need are able to purchase all products at a discounted rate.
Although a small nonprofit, Unite to Light has far-reaching influences with attention to education, global health and emergency response. Partnerships with the Bangladesh Project, Direct Relief, and the Department of Education of South Africa have provided a strong on the ground presence.
During the fires that occurred in Santa Barbara this past year, Unite to Light actually provided solar lights to disaster response teams and impacted families. Their new Solar Charger was designed with disaster relief in mind. An essential for all emergency kits, these lights are available for order through their website. These chargers contain enough power to provide 3-4 charges to a phone and also contain a high-power flashlight.
President of Unite to Light, Megan Birney, recounts a trip to South Africa where she met a 9-year old girl with dreams of becoming a nurse. Citing this moment as truly life-changing, Birney says, “I think oftentimes we think of these situations as ‘poor them,’ but that’s not the case. They might need a little bit of help, such as with food and lights, but they have dreams and they can really accomplish them. We’re just really the people providing the tools, they are the inspiring ones. It’s just a question of how can we help people become their best selves…with Unite to Light, it’s pretty amazing because, with every $10 or $25 we take in, we’re able to give the opportunity to someone to change their own life.”
For more information on Unite to Light or to purchase their products, visit their website here or call 805/617-0590.