Eight years ago, Let There Be Light International (LTBLI) began solar programming in Uganda with its first official partner. 8 years later, LTBLI is marking a major milestone – One Million lives impacted by solar programming in 3 countries.

You may wonder how we calculated that. The formula is simple. A solar light is given to a vetted beneficiary (someone who has been identified by one of our local partners as living in extreme poverty and in an off-grid home). Since the average household size is 5.4 people, one light can brighten more than five lives for 3+ years. Let There Be Light International has already given 26,500 solar lights to 143,100 beneficiaries in Uganda, Malawi and Kenya. In addition to the direct beneficiaries, LTBLI is solar-electrifying community health clinics, directly and indirectly benefiting hundreds of thousands of community members. After electrification, the clinics operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is an increase of 100% in most clinics. In sum, between the individual solar lights and the clinic solar systems, One Million lives have been impacted!

One may ask how can a $15 pico solar light help to impact One Million lives? I’ll try to unpack this – first as an African who spent my first 20 years in off grid Africa until I went to college. Then, I will explore the issue and LTBLI’s programming as someone who worked in more than eight countries of the African continent. Finally, I will explain the impact of grassroots solar programming as a consultant to Let There Be Light International.

One Million lives impacted means that members of a community like the one I grew up in will have safe, renewable lights in their houses. Mothers can sleep knowing that they only need to press a button to have light to check on their newborn. Before participating in LTBLI solar programming, an off-grid mother would need to light a candle or use paraffin, both of which create a burden financially and a danger to health. Frequently, we hear testimonies of snakes biting villagers when they need to use the outhouses. In so many ways, solar lights are changing lives.

One million lives impacted include students who, as I did, struggle to find light to do their homework. Like them, I spent my elementary and middle school racing against the sunset to review my notes, since my family could barely afford paraffin/kerosene or candles. Sometimes, I would light a long reed and try to study before the fire consumed the reed. Once consumed, I would light another one. But, guess how the room smelled? On the other hand, what option did I have? In addition, what about fire hazards if I dozed off by the dim light cast by the burning reed?–-With solar lights, this will not happen.

During my previous experience in Africa working with rural communities in Chad, one of the questions I had was how to turn the sun (that heats up to 100F almost every day) into renewable energy to help the local communities. The country suffers from extreme energy poverty with a weak electrical grid, yet there is ample solar potential. With one million lives impacted by solar lights, Let There Be Light International makes the case that we have the power right now to harness renewable energy and help vulnerable communities towards a future of sustainable development. In Uganda, health clinics in rural and off grid areas are operating 24 hours and communities have no fear of visiting anytime thanks to this program.

The benefits of solar lights given to off-grid communities are many – from tackling climate change, slowing pollution, reducing respiratory and eye diseases associated with fossil fuel burning and more. It is also worth mentioning the savings realized from not buying paraffin and candles. In fact some participants have expressed that they are using the money they save for solar light replacements.

Last week, Let There Be Light International’s primary Implementation Partner, Solar Health Uganda, completed the solar-electrification of two rural off-grid clinics, the 67th and 68th clinic solar-electrified in the past 8 years. This milestone marks One Million Lives impacted. Local administrators and health clinic workers gave words of thanks for the improvement to their facilities. They are happy and thankful. I, too, want to send that happiness and thanks to our valuable donors. Without you, we would not be this far. And, with you, we are sure to scale our solar light programming to reach many, many more. “Shine On!”