LOMBARD, Illinois— Nestled in a suburb just outside of Chicago, nonprofit Watts of Love is ramping up efforts to provide technologically driven solutions to global poverty. Its mission is to provide the gift of light to the world’s poor.
Watts of Love was cofounded by Nancy Economou and her husband John in 2012 after a trip to the Philippines. On their trip, Nancy and John visited a village near the capital Manila, where they witnessed firsthand how young children sat in complete darkness as others huddled around toxic kerosene lamps.
According to the United Nations Foundation, 1.3 billion people on earth live without access to electricity. Of these individuals, 95 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Many of the world’s poor are forced to rely on kerosene burning lamps as a substitute for electrical lighting. Providing dim lighting, toxic emissions and potentially hazardous conditions, kerosene is a 37 billion yearly industry, the human cost of which is passed directly onto the poor.
In the Philippines, kerosene lamps are used by households without basic access to electricity for evening lighting and cooking, among other things. Kerosene lamps can be extremely dangerous, as Nancy and John soon found out. During their visit, they met a four-year-old girl who had scars across half her face. The scars were the result of severe burns caused by a kerosene lamp.
According to the United Nations Foundation, “Exposure to smoke from hazardous methods of cooking and lighting kills nearly 2 million annually, most of them women and children – and more women are severely burned by kerosene-related accidents each year than are diagnosed with HIV and TB combined.” Moreover, unintentional ingestion of kerosene is a primary cause of child poisoning in developing countries with an average mortality rate of seven percent.
Nancy’s experiences in the Philippines moved her so much that she decided that she had to do something. She and her husband founded Watts of Love with the novel idea of supplying renewable solar powered lighting to Filipinos living without electricity.
In February, Watts of Love delivered 1,000 solar powered LED lanterns to the residents of Ilin Island. The lanterns are portable, durable and powered through an attached 4×4-inch solar panel. They also come with a USB port for charging electrical devices like phones and radios. Not only do these lights provide safe, free electricity, they can be used to start micro businesses by allowing owners to offer cell phone users an affordable alternative to pricey charging stations.
As Watts of Love puts it, light is a weapon against poverty. Studies by the World Bank and others seem to agree; they indicate that providing modern energy delivery could have the single biggest impact on living standards for developing nations. On average, electrified households attain two years more formal education than non-electrified counterparts, and small businesses typically operate two hours longer with electricity.
On the Island of Ilin, the impact of LED lighting is well underway. According to a PATH Foundation Philippines study, rural Filipinos tend to spend more than a quarter of their income on kerosene lighting. After switching to LED lighting, households are able to reduce kerosene expenditure by 72 percent.
In light of recent event surrounding Super Typhoon Haiyan, Watts of Love has launched an emergency disaster relief campaign to send 10,000 LED lanterns to the Philippines by Christmas. This time, they have partnered with local construction giant DMCI holdings to distribute the lanterns. For a donation of $40, anyone can afford the cost of one lamp—and one lamp is all it takes to make a difference.
Sources: Watts of Love, The Herald-News, My Suburban Life, CBS News, LED Inside, PastBook, UN Foundation