As you sow so shall you reap, they say, but is it really true? I say yes, if what you sow is light, then what you reap is a more enlightened world. How, one may ask? For instance, a bright Pakistani child growing up in a village may seek to study and pursue a career in modern science and become a beacon of hope and inspiration for many others; but the absence of light in the same child’s life may hinder his or her growth and capacity to pursue even basic education. There seems to be a correlation between education and becoming enlightened, and clearly, light seems to be a key ingredient in the mix.
As a British Pakistani citizen, currently residing in Pakistan and leading the Liter of Light movement, I had my own light bulb moment after realising that this simple yet innovative idea could help millions of underprivileged families in Pakistan. The savings generated can be spent on more important things like books, health care, nutrition and livelihood. Around half of Pakistan’s population, especially in rural areas, lives without reliable and affordable power supplies. With electricity prices in Pakistan amongst the highest in Asia, added to economic instability, paying monthly electricity bills can be a struggle for even those who have electricity.
In rural areas however, the residents have gotten used to living in darkness. In most of the Pakistani villages, there is actually no concept of living a normal life after the sunset. Women can be seen preparing meals out in the open, generally in the courtyard on their mud houses, while kids go running around, using streets as a playground. The overwhelming majority of people have adapted to a lifestyle which starts with the sunrise and ends at sunset. Without the presence of light, they are at a disadvantage in virtually every aspect of their lives. In some areas, this actually forces the residents to chop trees and disturb our fragile eco system, while others are left with no choice but to burn kerosene oil as an expensive alternative, exposing themselves to toxic fumes which are associated with health-related diseases like bronchitis and cancer.
The ongoing war in Afghanistan has forced 1.6 million Afghans to migrate to Pakistan, while a recent joint military offensive conducted by Pakistan’s Armed Forces against the armed terrorist groups has regretfully displaced more than 1.2 million Pashtoons from the tribal belt of the North Waziristan Agency into different areas of Pakistan. According to the UNHCR findings, which compare the number of refugees to the size of a country’s population or economy, the contribution made by Pakistan, relative to the size of its economy and the burden carried by the country, makes it the biggest host country of refugees in absolute terms.
Since Pakistan is blessed with an ample amount of sunlight, Liter of Light Pakistan made a logical conclusion to improve the living standards of these unfortunate families by bringing a ray of light into their homes at night. The team, in partnership with PEPSICO and Sika Pakistan, visited the UNHCR Jalozai refugee camp in Sep 2014. The camp remains one of the largest and most populous refugee or transit camps in Pakistan and is located 35 kilometres southeast of Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
At Jalozai, Liter of Light Pakistan was up against the rugged and rocky terrain of the camp. Digging a hole no deeper than a foot and half in the ground to install street lights had never been more challenging. There were times when halfway through the digging, the team encountered rocks and had to start all over again, leaving many volunteers with blisters on their palms. The team was also shocked to witness the absence of light in the restrooms used by the refugee community. The cubicles designed and donated by UNICEF were not fitted with light bulbs. Women, children, the elderly and disabled seemed to be the worst affected by the darkness. A simple visit to the restroom at night was extremely challenging and in some cases virtually impossible. Some of these cubicles were fitted inside the Mother and Children Maternity (MCH) hospital where women were brought in an emergency during labour.
The last power cut had left the camp 14 days without electricity. Although, the hospital was equipped with emergency generators, running them continuously for the whole night was just not possible. One of the proudest moments for Liter of Light Pakistan was to become the first chapter out of 55 participating countries to install a bottle bulb inside the labour ward of a refugee camp.
Liter of Light is a global movement which involves upcycling trashed and thrown away PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles into zero-carbon-emitting and eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulbs. Inspired by Alfredo Moser’s bottle bulb, Illac Diaz Founded the Liter of Light project in the Philippines in 2011.
The invention is relatively simple. It involves filling up a 1.5L soda bottle with purified water and chlorine and installing it onto the roof of a house. The water inside the bottle refracts the sunlight during the day time and creates the same intensity as a 55-watt light bulb. With the correct installation and materials, a solar bottle can last up to 3 years. With a little upgrade to the day bottle, coupled with a simple circuit and a small solar panel, the bottle bulb can also produce 3 Watts of eco-friendly light at night. Moreover, by adding a PVC pipe or a bamboo, the light can also be installed outdoors as a street light. The solar panel charges the battery attached to the circuit from the direct sunlight. The circuit is designed to switch on in the evening and off upon sunrise automatically.
Doe Zantamata once said: “It starts with a dream. Add faith, and it becomes a belief. Add action, and it becomes a part of life. Add perseverance, and it becomes a goal in life. Add patience and time, and it ends with a dream come true.” And just how perfectly Elizabeth Green puts it: “Sometimes, the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people.”
Vaqas Butt is the former South Yorkshire Police volunteer Special Constable. He is also the Executive Director of ACE Welfare Foundation and the Founder of Liter of Light Pakistan. He received his Master’s in Business Administration in 1999 from The Institute of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan.