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SLL & IOP joint event on eradicating the kerosene lamp

The Society of Light and Lighting (SLL) and the Institute of Physics (IOP) were honoured to host a LIGHTtalks: The Power of Photonics session back in February. The session was titled Safe Lighting for All: Eradicating the Kerosene Lamp and was held at the IOP on 9th February 2016.

In the developed world, lighting a room is as easy as flicking a switch but, for over 1.5 billion people that live outside the electricity supply, lighting is dependent on burning kerosene fuel. Highly dangerous, environmentally damaging and extremely bad for health, kerosene also represents a significant financial burden for some of the world’s poorest people.
The aim of this LIGHTtalk was to invite members from the lighting community and beyond to hear a panel of experts from charities and institutions talk about their efforts against this global challenge to make safe, clean, affordable lighting a reality.

SLL President, Liz Peck introduced the evening, having just returned from the International Year of Light Closing Ceremony in Mexico. The Institute of Physics and the Society of Light and Lighting were at the forefront of the UNESCO International Year of Light celebrations in the UK and, having made collaboration one of her main aims within her year as SLL President, Liz expressed her happiness to be working with the IOP for this event. Introducing the evening, Liz stated that one of the lasting legacies of the International Year of Light is the need to fight against light poverty in the developing world. There is a grave need to eradicate the use of the kerosene lamp and replace it with safe and sustainable alternatives.

Dr Beth Taylor from the Institute of Physics, also just returned from Mexico then thanked the audience for attending and welcomed them to the IOP headquarters in Portland Place. Beth also thanked the SLL for their involvements and efforts during the International Year of Light, with specific reference to the Night of Heritage Light (NOHL).

Richard Turner, Director of Fundraising and Marketing for SolarAid began by introducing the charity, outlining their goals and achievements to date. SolarAid is an international charity that works to combat poverty and climate change. They set up the social enterprise, SunneyMoney in 2006 and are now the biggest distributor of solar powered lamps in Africa. SunnyMoney travel to rural parts of Africa and run educational programs, whereby they teach the local community about the solar lamps that they have on offer. Having built trust in the solar products, they then sell and distribute the full range of solar products to that community, which drives further demand. Richard explained that the average solar light user recoups the cost of the lamp within 10 weeks of owning it, as they are no longer having to spend money on kerosene.

SolarAid solar lamp and an improvised kerosene lamp

Following Richard’s introduction to SolarAid, and briefly SunnyMoney, 2015 Young Lighter of the Year, Youmna Abdallah took to the stage. Youmna presented her winning Young Lighter paper, Light Poverty in Precarious Environments within Developing Countries. Youmna’s presentation focussed on her home country, Lebanon and the fact that even 25 years after the civil war which ravaged the country, people still experience daily power cuts, lasting for hours at a time. Youmna highlighted that nowadays, the more privileged within Lebanon can afford to have electricity installed in their properties but, those living within the slums and refugee camps, which have grown due to incoming refugees, are without any form of light after sunset. This lack of light adds another dimension to the poverty experienced in these camps, threatening people’s sight and education, as well as creating an atmosphere of fear from violence and robbery.

Youmna told the audience how she had decided to investigate this issue further by visiting the Kobbet el-Shamra refugee camp in Northern Lebanon. On arriving, Youmna noticed that many of the shelters let little or no daylight in. Youmna described how some of the tents had ceiling suspended incandescent lamps however, the camp manager told her that they only had electricity for four hours a day. Youmna said that a few weeks prior to her visit to the camp, a fuse blew in one of the tents, starting a fire which spread quickly throughout the camp. In this sense, good lighting would not only be a source of light but a matter of safety.

Youmna detailed how she went about getting a more accurate idea of the amount of daylight which was entering each shelter, carrying out illuminance measurements when the power was off. Youmna then carried out further measurements after dark, to see how far the light from the 30W incandescent light reached. Youmna then discussed how she went on to carry out comparisons between different light sources, in order to ascertain which would be the most appropriate for these shelters. You can read Youmna’s paper in the latest SLL Newsletter, from page nine.

Once Youmna had finished, Olivia Otieno took to the stage to give the audience more insight into the ‘SunnyMoney way.’ On her travels to Mexico, SLL President Liz Peck had met Olivia in the queue for security at Heathrow airport, only to realise that they were both on their way to the IYL closing ceremony and that Olivia was a speaker at an SLL event happening two weeks later! Olivia had travelled to the UK from Kenya, before heading out to Mexico.

Olivia expanded on Richard’s earlier introduction and discussed the process which SunnyMoney follow in order to introduce their products to communities within rural Africa. SunnyMoney start by educating the community, through schools campaigns. Initially, they seek permission from local authorities to contact head teachers within that region, with a view to introducing them to the SunnyMoney way. They then set up training for the head teachers, where they learn how to use, and importantly, to maintain solar lamps. Each head teacher then returns to their school with a sample light, which they use to educate their students, as well as their community more generally. Olivia also highlighted that whilst informing the head teachers about the benefits of solar lighting, SunnyMoney also teach them about the dangers of using kerosene. On returning to their communities, the head teachers then take orders for solar lights from residents, which SunnyMoney then deliver within a matter of weeks.

Olivia went on to outline the entrepreneurial opportunities which SunnyMoney offers to people, giving the customer an opportunity to work on their behalf by selling their products to local communities. Additionally, as a number of the solar lights on offer also have phone charging capabilities, this creates further business opportunities through increased communication. To date, SunnyMoney has sold over 1.7 million solar lights.

The speakers were then invited to form a panel onstage, answering questions from the audience.

It is clear that there is a lot more to be done in the fight against light poverty and in raising awareness about the importance and value of safe lighting in developing countries. The Society looks forward to working alongside organisations like the Institute of Physics, SolarAid and SunnyMoney in fighting against light poverty, beyond the International Year of Light.