Shed a Little Light

One Million Lights and Energizer SA partnered to ensure that 7,000 South African school children made their way out of the dark. Lights were delivered in July by a group of dedicated young volunteers to give children and teens like Nomvelo Npungose a better chance. 


Nomvelo Npungose is a smart, outwardly joyful 18 year-old girl living in Eastern South Africa. She’s a member of the Zulu nation in what is advertised by travel sites as “Zululand”. Nomvelo lives in a traditional Zulu dome made of hay and cow dung. She smiles a lot, and can often be heard across her village singing an exuberant, Zulu celebratory tune – “A-la-la-laaa.” Nomvelo was orphaned as a young child when her parents died and has lived with her grandmother since. She writes poetry when she feels sad, she says, to make herself happy again.

Nomvelo is one of 10-11 million Zulu people of the Zulu African nation living in the KwaZulu-natal province of South Africa. She’s bright, and funny and she wants to change the world. At least the one that extends to the edges of Zululand, the one that separates a wealthy South African nation from a destitute one. She dreams of being a social worker in the region of her roots despite what she recognizes as an inherently corrupt system.

Nomvelo lives in a village not far from Durban, the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal region. And while power lines run in plain sight, nearly overhead, she’s one of thousands of Zulu youth that work, live, and study without electricity. They depend on kerosene lanterns and paraffin candles to light their nightly work.

The hazards of kerosene, though, significantly outweigh the benefits. Kerosene lanterns kindled nearly a dozen house fires within a few months alone, and they continue to expose thousands of young lungs to the equivalent of four packs of cigarettes in the time it takes to light a study session. Resulting environmental damage is also pretty extreme given that 190 million tons of carbon emissions can be attributed to fuel used for lighting each year.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 3.12.08 PM Due to health hazards, as well as the impractical expense, Nomvelo and her grandmother depend on two paraffin candles, at a cost of 50 cents apiece, each week to light evening work and studying. Study groups with fellow classmates are often cancelled because the second candle expires before the week is out.

Previously punished for trying to connect to a grid they could literally reach out and touch, members of the community long ago gave up on seeking help from Durban.

In July, though, a long-awaited miracle descended on the village, or so thought Nomvelo when she was suddenly given a way to lift the dark cloud of night that covered her chance to get ahead.

Enter, the “light-bringer”.

Sierra Fan, Harvard student, and early activist, joined up with worldwide nonprofit organization, One Million Lights, at the ripe age of 15 when she and a small group of fellow teens raised $5,000 to fund their trip to deliver 250 solar-powered lights to a small island called Capaneuanes, in the Philippines.

In July of this year, she arrived in Nomvelo’s village, a seasoned, solar light-toting veteran with several trips under her belt. She and a group of volunteers passed out hundreds of solar-powered flashlights to toothy, grinning children on school grounds and in the village. D8E_5716

“As soon as we arrived, the whistles and the singing started. It’s their version of applause. It’s an “A-la-la-la-laaa….” Fan said, in a phone interview, trying out her own rendition of the Zulu tune.

“There’s such amazement when we’re explaining it to them. When we tell them that this light takes energy from the sun, that they don’t have to pay, that the sun does the work, their disbelief and excitement is palpable,” she said. “In the end, they celebrate, dancing and singing in appreciation. They call me the ‘light-bringer’.”

When Fan met Nomvelo in July, she was inspired by her spirit and fortitude, she and her grandmother cutting corners to afford candles or the occasional extravagance of batteries to light her study sessions that would aid in securing her spot at the University.

With the solar light provided by One Million Lights, Nomvelo and her grandmother can save the dollar normally spent on paraffin candles and use it to pay for the medicine prescribed to her grandmother. And, with no shortage of sun in Eastern South Africa, harvesting five hours of sunlight for two and half hours of night lighting is one of the few things that can come freely.

In July, over a three-week period, 7,000 solar lights were delivered across South Africa to light the way for students and families without electricity. To date, One Million Lights has delivered over 60,000 lights to countries such as Indonesia, Haiti, Argentina, the Philippines, and Guatemala, powering the future for thousands of children, families, and artisans.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 3.13.41 PMIndian native and marketing executive, Anna Sidana, founded One Million Lights in 2008, determined to lighten the load for impoverished areas of the world. “Every time I hear a story like Nomvelo’s from one of our ‘light-bringers’ it lifts my spirits, seeing these two disparate worlds connect for the betterment of humanity,” said Sidana.

Within a few years of One Million Light’s inception, Sidana had managed to partner with some pretty big names.

The nonprofit is widely sponsored, boasting an impressive repertoire of corporate support. Energizer is its largest sponsor, hosting a popular fundraiser, called “The Energizer Night Race For a Brighter World”, held in cities across the globe, requiring that participants wear Energizer -donated, solar-powered headlamps to brighten their steps toward the finish line. The company has designed and contributed thousands of solar flashlights and lanterns, supplying a generous portion of many of One Million Light’s deliveries.SAMSUNG CSC

Among other sponsors and partners are Ebay, Lunera, Intel, and the Sun Power Foundation. Private support is also integral to One Million Light’s success.

Fan says that it’s easy to support an organization like One Million Lights.

“The look on a child’s face when they receive a light is just about the brightest thing there is,” she said.

Nomvelo is one of thousands of examples of students who are so capable of making a difference, says Fan. “All they need is a little light to brighten the way.”

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