Project: Bringing Solar Lights to Burkina With Unite to Light

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaming up with Unite to Light, a non-profit aiming to establish markets for its low-cost reading light in the developing world. My goal will be to try to find NGOs, local associations, or even individuals here in Burkina Faso who are willing to be re-sellers of Unite to Light’s low-cost solar reading lamp.

Unite to Light’s president, Claude Dorais (pictured on the left), was kind enough to meet with me in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and equip me with some sample models to bring back to Burkina. The light itself is really neat, and was designed by UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Energy Efficiency. It packs a 4-6 hour battery life after an 8 hour charge and it’s lightweight flexible neck comes in handy when hanging from a ceiling fan or attaching it to a bike, among other uses. It’s sturdy, and designed with intense equatorial UV rays in mind. The light should last years, and even be able to survive being left out in the rain, and runs off a replaceable rechargeable AA battery.

For those without electricity, the light would be a welcome arrival. Since Burkina lies not too far from the equator, the sun sets around 6:30pm year-round, which doesn’t offer much natural light after school hours or for stores that want to stay open into the evening.

Janet, another PCV here in Burkina did an informal survey and found that the families often went through 1-3 cheap batteries a week on their flashlights, thus resulting in a 4-6 months payback period if the pricing works out to my estimates. The dificult part will be convincing customers that it’s worth it to pay4-6 months of battery costs up front, as they’ll have free light for years thereafter.

Even though I have electricity, I’ve been using my light routinely during frequent power outages, late night reading where a huge fluorescent tube would be a bit overkill, lighting up my shower (which has a wall between it and the light fixture), nighttime bike riding, and even for lighting up the courtyard while filling up water one night.

I’ve been able to drum up quite a bit of interest here out east, though haven’t yet convinced anyone to buy a shipment of 120 lights to resell. Thankfully a few other PCVs have taken interest in the project and I hope one of us will be able to find willing partners. There will likely be a few difficulties with customs and duties, but I’m determined to bring these incredibly useful lights to Burkina.



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The opinions on this blog are only those of the author, and and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.