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‘WakaWaka’ solar power project aims to bring light to Haiti

Waka Waka

An innovative initiative using portable solar powered lamps has been launched to help bring light to Haitians struggling to cope without electricity.

The scheme, which is the brainchild of Netherlands-based solar company, WakaWaka Light, aims to deliver 50,000 renewable energy lamps, which will give around a quarter of a million people access to light.

For each purchase of a WakaWaka solar lamp, the company subsidizes a light that will be distributed by UNHCR and other organizations to impoverished Haitians still living in shelters since the devastating 2010 earthquake. The solar devices will start to be given out in spring.

Camille van Gestel, co-founder of WakaWaka Light, said the response to the lamps in America has been unprecedented. Despite the campaign, mainly through social media, only being a few weeks old, “we are currently at roughly 20 percent of our goal.”

Inadequate access to power is not just a problem for the 330,000 or so people still living in tent cities. It is estimated around seven to eight million people, out of a population of ten million, live without daily electricity or a back-up system during power outages.

What should be a basic human right is luxury for middle and high-income earners who can afford the costly generators, converters and solar power systems. In fact, outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other major cities, in some areas electricity is nonexistent.

“Before the earthquake millions lived without adequate electricity but this number greatly increased in the aftermath of the quake and this is now worse since Hurricane Sandy,” said Els Vervloet, a Dutch native and WakaWaka light volunteer who has lived in Haiti for 24 years.

The majority of the population is dependent on expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps, which causes children to be burned daily due to accidents. The crude oil in these lamps provides a basic but poor quality light. The toxic fumes are also the cause of many respiratory problems in the non-ventilated tents and huts.

“I have heard the wheezing lungs of children and adults because of daily inhaling the dangerous fumes of kerosene,” said Vervloet. “Living in a tent or small room without proper ventilation, with only a kerosene lamp, does the same damage to your lungs as smoking of two packs of cigarettes a day.”

In contrast, the water-resistant WakaWaka solar lamps, which only need to be charged for a few hours during the day, produce enough safe solar power to get through the entire night. The lamps have five controls, from very bright to night-light.

Living in darkness is not only inconvenient but has a devastating impact on the economy. Students struggle to study without proper lighting and vendors are robbed of the ability to extend their working hours once daylight fades.

“We take electricity for granted here in the States,” said former Florida Congressional Candidate J.R. Gaillot, who is of Haitian decent. “Too many people are dying because of the threat from dangerous kerosene lamps. The kids can’t study in the dark and vendors aren’t able to sell.”

No lights also equals more crime. The darkness is a perfect haven for thieves to roam the streets. “Living in a tent city or any dark place can be especially dangerous for women, the rape percentage is quite high,” said Vervloet.

However, Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor, said there has been some progress. “This earthquake destroyed so much, but it did not destroy the will to live or the desire for something better within its people.”

“It’s true, progress can be slow, and some who have visited Port-au-Prince say nothing is being done,” adds Mahfood. “In spite of all the challenges, homes are being built and lives are being transformed.”

However, Dutch Consul General in Haiti Rob Padberg said recovery and reconstruction has been painfully slow. “The disappointing realization today, three years later, is that still many try to overcome the setbacks and losses and even many tens of thousands of people live in tents without proper bathroom facilities, a rain proof tent, running water and electricity,” said Padberg.

by Kunbi Tinuoye | Originally published on January 10, 2012 at 11:28AM

A Haitian child using a Waka Waka solar lamp to complete homework: photo credit to Petra Pastircakova

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    Kunbi Tinuoye
    Kunbi Tinuoye
    Kunbi Tinuoye is the founder and CEO of UrbanGeekz. Previously, she worked as a News Correspondent for NBC’s theGrio. Prior, she was a senior broadcast journalist for the BBC in London. Tinuoye currently sits on the SXSW Pitch Advisory Board and CES Conference Advisory Board. She is a key player in the Atlanta tech startup ecosystem and serves as a mentor for Comcast NBCUniversal’s The Farm Accelerator. Tinuoye has received several awards and accolades, including being honored with a Resolution from the Georgia Legislative.