Solar Lanterns Keep Kigali, Rwanda Thriving

By Patrick Foley, Global BrightLight Foundation volunteer, who recently lived and worked for two months in Rwanda.

Living in Kigali, Rwanda, the unique happens almost by default.  This is the story of how solar lanterns boost both those without and those with access to electricity.

The town I live in, Kacyiru, is a densely populated neighborhood complete with steep hills, laughing children, and oh … did I mention power lines? Yes the city of Kigali has an electrical grid.  But this gift comes with one predictable surprise: power outages.  Every few days or so the government decides to shut off power to areas of Kigali. We don’t know when or where.  An intriguing combination of traits Kigali has are being a developed (and developing)bustling city, but also being vulnerable.  The sun sets around 6 p.m. every night.  Darkness falls.

Unfortunately, this means tens of thousands of people at any given time are without power, sometimes hours at a time.  What can they do to see at night?  Businesses, homes and commercial buildings all essentially come to a halt.  This translates to lost productivity for anyone on the spectrum, be it the local business or the hoards of schoolchildren in need of dependable light.

Enter our solar-powered lamps: When the city shuts down during work hours, it is light that keeps the wheels in motion.  Doing our part to keep the hinges greased, Global BrightLight, in addition to serving those in the villages and without access to electricity, is also interested in spreading light in the big city as well.  One of our lamps single-handedly kept a local restaurant open for business.

Without light these businesses cannot operate.  Most do not have a generator.  This leaves them searching for a dependable alternative when – click – surprise, no more lights.  More and more, people are turning to GBL’s lamps to fill in the gaps.  One thing I can now say for sure:  spreading clean and bright light really is a tide that lifts all boats, big and small.  As word spreads, so do our solar lamps.  Businesses and individuals we never planned to impact are feeling the productive impact.

While we continue to mainly focus on rural areas, it is a welcome surprise I thought worth sharing with you that external benefits are being felt by all here in Rwanda.

Thank you to our donors for their generous gifts

We thank the following individuals, families and foundations for their interest and support to help light and power the world.

Linda and Barry Allen Foundation
Molly Anderson
Kathy and Joe Arvay
Sue and Steve Barnum
Deb Donte Bell
Adam Berman
Hon. Max Berry
Towney Brewster
Mary Clare and George Broadbent
Peter Burks
Castellini Foundation
Norah and Kerry Clark
Addie and Jeff Coultas
Carl and Ann Dean
Martha Dippell and Daniel Korengold
Drial Door Advised Fund of the Community Foundation for Nantucket
Duke Energy Foundation
Dianne Dunkelman
Robert and Marsha Egan Family Fund
Nancy and Bo Elder
Forman Family Fund of the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund
Dewey Forward
Kenneth and Kendal Gladish
Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP)
Greg and Kris Gleason
Greater Cincinnati Foundation
Betsy and Ray Grubbs
Patricia and William Hagenah
The Hale Family Foundation
Lucile and Bill Hays
Martha and Buddy Hennessey
Michael and Linda Hirschfeld
Karen and David Hoguet
Marsha and John Hubbuch
Karp Family Foundation
Dennis Keller
Marsha Kotalac
Katharine Kruse
Susan and Jeff Lucier
Gregory and Veronica Martin
Greg MacKechnie
Victoria McManus and John McDermott
Met Foundation
Linda and Frank Morral
John and Sharon Neighbours
Eileen and Richard Orofino
Sue and Karl Ottison
Sally and Jay Peacock
Francine and John Pepper
Melissa and Nathaniel Philbrick
Hon. and Mrs. Robert Portman
Wym Portman
Elizabeth Queally
Phil and Peg Read
Jeanne Reisinger
Gabe and Maggie Rice
Alice and George Rochat
M.A. and Jim Rogers
Randy and Mary Rogers
Moe and Jack Rouse
Catherine O’Brien Saynor
Rick and Carla Shadiow
Anne and David Shane
Beverly and Phil Stambough
Jim and Jere Struges
Diane and Alan Thomas
Alex Tuttle
Mark and Barbara White
Beth and Ace Yakey
Mimi Young
Michael B. Zeddies, Jr.


Lighting the Way: How Nantucket Resident Joe Hale is Changing the World

N Magazine, Winter 2013,

Since the day he was born, Joe Hale has been beating the odds. When his mother was nine months pregnant with him, she became afflicted with polio, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down and placed in an iron lung. No baby had ever been born in an iron lung until little Joe junior came into the world healthy with ten fingers and ten toes.Years later in his professional life, Hale miraculously went from earning $7,000 a year as a teacher, to becoming the president of a multimillion dollar energy company, this despite not knowing “a megawatt from a light bulb.” (Click on this link to read the full story on the N website.)

Joe Hale brings light, hope, energy to African villages

Joe Hale brings light, hope, energy to African villages
The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket, Mass., August 22, 2013
Used with permission – Copyright (C) 2013 – The Inquirer and Mirror

By Parker Richards,
I&M Staff

The Global BrightLight Foundation has set a goal: To place 50,000 solar-powered lights in the hands of those without electric grid access by the end of the year.

The foundation was founded three years ago by James Rogers and seasonal resident Joe Hale, both of whom had previously worked at Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C., the former as president, chairman, and chief executive officer.

Hale, who was formerly the chief communications officer at Cinergy Corp. of Cincinnati, Ohio, the president of Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, and the president of the Kasler Group, lives in Nantucket for much of the year.

The Global BrightLight Foundation works with Greenlight Planet of Riverside, Ill., which produces palm-sized lights affixed with cellphone chargers and solar panels for the foundation. The lights feature three brightness settings.

They last roughly five years. The idea for the foundation came to Hale and Rogers after they read an article detailing the struggles of a Kenyan woman who would travel extensively to charge her cellular phone. Due to a ride in a “bush taxi” that lasted six hours each way and cost $3, and the long wait at the village where she would charge her phone, she had to make two round-trips for each charge, and would spend $12 on travel expenses, coupled with 25 cents on the charge itself. As the woman would make the trip several times per month, she could spend almost $40 per month simply charging her phone.

Read all of the story – Part 1 PDF
Read all of the story – Part 2 PDF


Half-Way to the Objective of 50,000 Solar Lanterns to be Provided Around the World

With more than 25,000 portable solar lanterns being distributed to off-grid households in Uganda, Rwanda, Nepal and Haiti, the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP), in partnership with the Global BrightLight Foundation (GBF), is now half-way to its objective, thus reaching an important milestone. Read the Aug. 21, 2013 news release from our partner, the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP), on this page on their website.

Progress in Haiti

I mid-July, I arrived in Port-au-Prince in Haiti and immediately met Allison Archambault, co- director of EarthSpark International.  EarthSpark is dedicated to electrifying rural Haiti. We collected a volunteer, Brian Gunn, who was coming to Haiti from Washington, D.C., to work with EarthSpark for a month. Brian got into our truck for the eight-hour drive to Port Salut, on the westernmost peninsula of Haiti.

There are 10 million people in Haiti, and most of the attention has been focused on Port-au-Prince since the 2010 earthquake. As far as I could tell, it is a city of complete disorganization. Rebuilding is taking place, but evidently without codes or guidelines. Most of the social problems center in Port-au-Prince, as my ride from the airport illustrated. But the need for access to electricity (some 7 million people) is much larger than the area around Port-au-Prince, as I soon discovered.

After a bumpy, rainy, honk-accompanied ride (why do they lay on their horns constantly?), we arrived at dusk in Port-Salut, a beautiful ocean-side community. It’s rustic, to be sure, with cows grazing outside my room and goats everywhere, including on all of the menus. Electricity is spotty and there no hot water in the hotel, but it was so hot outside, who cares. And, I’ve never had more mosquito bites on my body in my life.

We had a dinner of local fish and lobster, with rice, always rice, which was nice, because the next night when we went to dinner, they’d run out of food for the small, dedicated EarthSpark staff. For that and other reasons, I came to admire this dedicated team.

For instance, Allison and Rachel are wonderful young women. Alison is a passionate environmentalist who feels the answer to the world’s energy problems lies in renewable energy and energy efficiency. She has recruited a like-minded group of employees who I came to admire. They are devoting their lives to this cause, and more power to them.

Rachel lives in Port-Salut, and is American, although she did her undergrad abroad, and she is a tech wizard. She’s developed incredible systems and marketing plans and I came to really admire her. And, she’s sharing her plans with us. Like the residents, the team lives below our poverty line both in income and access to energy.

Another team member, Arthur, is 29 years old and from Paris. He is taking a sabbatical from a French gas company to work for EarthSpark. Imagine having a one-year sabbatical after working for a company for seven years. Brian, another team member, is a 40-year-old consultant from Washington, D.C., who decided to spend a month in Haiti volunteering for EarthSpark.

Here’s the bottom line: Like everybody else in this space, EarthSpark has learned by trial and error. They built a clean energy store, to which no one came. They’ve worked for four years on a microgrid in Les Anglais, a community two hours further down a dirt road that we visited the next day.

After grants from the National Geographic Society, the United Nations, the Haitian government and others, they have just 14 customers connected to the micrgrid. But, they’ve learned from their experience and will now be able to roll it out to a much larger population The microgrid will expand to 54 customers next month and hundreds more eventually.

The Haitian government must also believe in them because it is now investing in EarthSpark. We had dinner with the U.N. representative from this area one night and she spoke very highly of their work.

I asked the EarthSpark team: “How are you going to sell 10,000 solar lanterns for us in the next year?” They assured me they will. They’ll do it by expanding their network of regional managers and resellers, some of whom I met the night before as we took an after-dark stroll through Port-Salut, stopping and visiting homes using solar-powered lanterns.

It was evident how important these lanterns are in people’s lives. We saw kids reading and mothers cooking. We visited midwives who saved babies lives because of the lanterns. They make such a difference.


New light for new hope in Rwanda

What a sobering, centering day in Rwanda.

The first thing I noticed was her eyes.  Lifeless, dull.  There was no sparkle there.  You could detect a silent suffering in her eyes, which appeared dead.  She doesn’t make eye contact.  She fidgets and constantly looks away.  She has a proud bearing, but you can feel the shameful secret lying just below the surface of her vacant stare.

She is neatly dressed, well groomed and her home was immaculate.  The dirt floor was swept clean, and the mud wall had a decoration of a page from a newspaper showing a soccer player.  The room had a stool and a bed.  Nothing else.  We sat on the bed.  The second room of her home, glimpsed behind a sheet curtain, held the bed for her little brother, and nothing else.

She is 17 years old and her brother is 11.  Her name is Furaha and her brother is Sibomana.  Shortly after Furaha was born in 1996 in Uganda, her father left the family and Furaha, her mother and grandmother, made their way to the refugee camp in Rwanda called Kiziba.  Furaha has now lived in the Kiziba refugee camp for 17 years, her entire life.

Her brother was born in 2003. In 2005 both her mother and grandmother died.  Aside from occasional visits from the Children’s Protection group in the camp, Furaha has raised her brother alone for the last nine years.

Let me tell you a little about the Kiziba camp, where I spent eight hours today.  There are 3,750 families who live there.  All live in mud houses, many they built themselves.  The mud walls need to be refreshed each year as they begin to disintegrate during the rainy season.  Each house has a plastic sheet for a roof provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  Nothing is green.  Everything is covered in a reddish sheen of dust. The 3,750 families are tightly situated on a hillside.  There is no room to expand. The filth is astonishing.

This is a camp, not a community.  No one could tell me when a camp becomes a community, even after 17 years.  I met the Camp President, who looked no more than 20.  I was told he was likely 40. Apparently, malnourishment causes this delayed appearance of aging.

No one works here.  The tedium and boredom is palpable.  It’s hot, dusty and boring, a formula for trouble.   Occasionally there’s a day job someone can get outside of the camp, or a job providing the mud wash on a house for pay, but the real “currency” is food.  The UNHCR provides enough food for the monthly diet.  Sell some of your monthly ration, and you’ll go to bed hungry near the end of the month.  Most residents here do. And if the man of the house drinks, and alcoholism is rampant, his family will be hungry for days.

There is no overt economy in the camp, although many residents sell some of their monthly food rations (maize, beans, a little oil and salt) for the occasional vegetable or item of clothing.  Inevitably when they sell some food, they are short on food as the month comes to an end.  To earn extra money for food, many of the girls and women resort to the sex trade to earn 500 to 2,000 Rwandan Francs or $1-4 (U.S.).

There are 12 latrines in the camp for 17,000 people.  They are unbelievably smelly.  Just last year a four-year-old boy fell through the floor when the rotted floorboards cracked.  He drowned in the hundreds of gallons of filth below.

There is no electricity and hence no light.  Routinely, women and girls are raped at night when they walk the considerable distance in the pitch dark to the toilet.  They don’t scream out when they are attacked because they’d then be shamed by others in the camp knowing they had been raped.

I asked Furaha why she wasn’t in school.  She told me she had started failing her classes when she had to take care of her brother. I asked why her brother wasn’t in school.  She told me she didn’t have the 200 Rwandan Francs required for his haircut—20 cents (U.S.) and for his food coupon for the month—altogether 40 cents (U.S.). As long as she didn’t have the money, her brother couldn’t return to school.

I asked Furaha about her aspirations, her dreams for the future.  She thought for a long time, vacantly staring ahead.  The question stumped her.  Finally, she replied that she wanted to take good care of her brother, and that she’d someday like to go back to school.  That was her dream, but nothing long term.

This is a very sad place.  It needs our help.  New light will be the beginning of change for Furaha and her brother.  The Global BrightLight Foundation plans to provide a solar lantern to each family in the camp.  A $35 solar lantern will change the lives of 3,750 families.  Next month I will be writing many of you to ask for your support of the Kiziba amp cand other camps like it.  When you get my letter, please join me in changing lives, one light at a time.


Productive trip to Kathmandu, Nepal

Arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal, is an assault on the senses.  You are first hit by the heavy heat which immediately envelops you.  Then you hear the sounds, ranging from honking horns to mooing cows to the lilting cadence of the local language.  Then you smell the pollution as well as see it—the kerosene and petrol fumes.  You also get wafts of enticing food from the street vendors, selling kebobs and curries and fruits.

I arrived at my hotel, settled in, and met local Niraj Subedi for dinner.  Niraj is a young guy who’s well on his way to being a true standout in the next generation of Nepali leadership.  With his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and varied experiences, he’s created his own path to success.  He’s worked in both the public and private sectors and has traveled abroad for education, gaining an international perspective he’s been able to bring back to his native land.  He’s fun, funny and determined to make a difference in Nepal.

We plotted our next few days over a dinner of murgh makhani (butter chicken).  My objective was to establish enough local relationships in government, technology and the local NGO world to make Global BrightLight Foundation a leader in distributing portable solar lighting systems in Nepal.  And I only had four days to accomplish this.

The next morning I was met at 7 a.m. by Buddhi Sapkota who was my host for the day.  Buddhi runs one of the more successful NGOs in Nepal called the Beautiful Nepal Association, or Sandar Nepal Sanstha.  Buddhi is currently getting his Ph.D. and has received funding from The World Bank, USAID and several other agencies and foundations.

We visited Ram Dhital who is the program manager for the government’s alternative Energy Promotion Centre.  We then talked with Prem Basnet who is the General Manager of the Renewable Energy Test Station, the authority that tests and authorizes manufacturers in Nepal—a very important meeting.

From there we met with the Executive Director of Suryodaya Urja, Mr. Nabin Bhujet, a founder of the company that manufactures panels in Nepal, but unfortunately they don’t have a product that meets our needs.

We then met with Shanker Pandey.  Shanker was born and raised in Kathmandu, but received his undergraduate degree at Cincinnati’s Xavier University and his MBA from Georgetown!  Shanker is the local representative of KFW, a German bank that does incredible work in Nepal supporting all types of worthwhile causes.  Nurej works with Shanker.

Following the day of meetings, Nurij graciously invited me back to his home for a meal with his family, a very special experience for me.  While English may not have been the common language for everyone involved, Nurij’s wonderful wife Sami and his five-year-old son Amorgh, made me feel right at home.  There’s nothing like having a home visit when you’re far from home.

The next day, Nurij picked me up and we drove into the country to visit villages where solar, micro hydro, and bio mass projects have taken place.  My objective was to see what’s worked and what hasn’t.  We drove a couple of hours to the village of Anpghari where we visited a three-generation home that had enjoyed a solar home system for the past 17 years.

The system had only recently stopped working.  The family showed me around their home and barnyard and demonstrated how they used the light.  They were anxious to replace the system, which was a common theme I found.  Once a family had experienced having light in their home, they would find a way to replace it if their current system stopped functioning.  I became enamored with the grandmother who lived with them—she had the most expressive face, even though we couldn’t exchange a word of common dialog.

We then stopped to visit a micro hydro plant followed by a visit to a family’s ingenuous biomass project, the process of which lay before me!  First there were the cows and goats, followed by the pile of dung, followed by the biomass tank, followed by the processor, followed by the wires into the house!  It was fun to see the entire process laid out so logically.

We drove about an hour to the offices of the Resource Management and Rural Empowerment Center (REMREC) to talk with their director, Gokul Gautam about how they might be able to partner with us in Nepal. We never want to put all our eggs in one NGO basket if we can help it.  Gokul brought his entire staff in to meet me, and they remain a viable partner alternative.

We arrived back at the hotel where I met my old friend Peter Hillary for dinner.  Peter had just led a trek to the basecamp of Mt. Everest for several major donors to the Himalayan Trust, founded by his father Sir Edmund Hillary.  They were a delightful group of kiwis and we had a wonderful time.  Peter and I also discussed how GBF might partner with the Trust to provide lanterns to students at some of the more rural schools they run.

Got up the next day and headed for home.  I feel we made real progress and will have a successful project in Nepal.  Love the food there.  Love the people there.  Love the culture there.  It’s a good site for GBF because the need is great and the appreciation sincere.

Shed a Little Light: After a lifetime of service, this Hanover alum has embarked on his greatest mission yet.

It all began with a conversation over breakfast. In 2010, retired Cinergy exec Joe Hale Jr. ’71 and his friend, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, discussed a newspaper article about a woman in Kenya with five children, who spent 14 hours traveling by foot and motorcycle taxi in a single day, four times a month, in order to get her cell phone charged. Read the full article starting on page 22 from the Winter 2013, THE HANOVERIAN.

Update from Guatemala

Is there anything more rewarding than to see a dream realized, a mission accomplished, a vision fulfilled?

I first visited the village of Quixalito in Northern Guatemala ten months ago to explore the possibility of introducting the work of Global BrightLight Foundation there.  Quixalito isn’t an easy place to access.  After a four-hour drive from Guatemala City, it’s then another hour and a half to the start of the trail to the village.  An hour plus later, up rocky hills and over streams and through jungle forests, you arrive at this small, very spread-out village of 100 families.  Last year when I visited, there was darkness after sunset, except for the few people who could afford candles, which cost $.10 (U.S.) each and last about 30 minutes.

Imagine the sense of pride and satisfaction I got this week (Mar. 18, 2013) when I returned and found every home with a latern from Global BrightLight Foundation.  I entered Gloria’s home and found her in the windowless living space doing her schoolwork by the light of a GBF lantern.  I entered another home and found a very old woman sewing by the light.

Every family with whom I talked told me about how the lantern had changed their lives – literally.  They could work after dark.  They could cook after dark.  They could read and study after dark. They were no longer breathing fumes from kerosene lanterns.  They were so very appreciative.

And I have this huge “inside smile,” and was bursting with pride at what our donors’ generosity has accomplished.  It provided me with a feeling of satisfaction and also motivation for all of the work we have yet to do.