As UNESCO’s International Day of Light approaches on May 16, we are reminded about the power of light and the role solar light can play in the lives of farmers who have been devastated by natural disaster. We’re not talking about solar energy generated by solar grid systems, but rather, the kind of solar light that gets into people’s hands right away.
Our founder, Alice Chun, often tells the story of an encounter in St. Thomas where she met a tall, extremely thin young man:
He had a spring to his step as he walked toward me. I recognized him from his talk in a panel discussion the morning I met him. He was weaving his way through a flock of attendees participating in the Post-Disaster Recovery Meeting organized by the Clinton Global Initiative in St Thomas, USVI. It was eighteen months after Hurricane Maria, the deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico.
“Hey excuse me,” he said, “but I have your light...the Solar Puff...”.
As it turns out, the young man with that spring in his step, Franco, was a farmer who wanted to grow his own food. He was on a mission towards independence and self-reliance by building a respectable business in small-scale farming. Franco was passionate and energetic in his pursuit to cultivate the land with love and care. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria and faced with the unimaginable task of natural disaster recovery, he was given a Solar Puff.
Franco’s enthusiasm for the “amazing and beautiful thing that really works”, remains one of our most profound testimonials. He explained that as farmers, they needed to work before the sun came up. And during the early morning darkness they needed light to be able to harvest. If the farmers missed getting their harvest to the market which opened when the sun came up, they missed selling their livelihood. To survive, they simply could not wait for infrastructure to come back online. They needed the power of light right away. For Franco, the Solar Puff was the gift of light he could hold in his hands and carry with him everywhere.
In natural disaster recovery, there is little time to wait for infrastructure to get back to normal. In the case of Puerto Rico, it took 11 months for power to return. Our Solar Puff was Franco’s light to recovery. And eighteen months later, he was still enthusiastically using these lights and contributing to the future of farming and food systems.
As we celebrate International Day of Light, we should make room for stories like Franco’s. Where solar light that is accessible to individuals right away is as important and useful as the progress we are making in solar grid systems. For Franco, in the early morning darkness, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, his light shone brightly.