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A Teenager's Plan to Light the World

Society & Culture  (tags: activists, american, child, education, ethics, freedoms, human rights, reading, solar power )

- 1767 days ago -
At the young age of 15, Ben Hirschfeld began providing solar lamps to students in developing countries.

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Kit B (276)
Tuesday July 23, 2013, 8:57 pm
A student in Kisumu, Kenya demonstrates how she uses her lantern for reading. (Photo c/o Lit! Solar)

Four years ago, when Ben Hirschfeld was a freshman in high school, he learned that students in the developing world—and even in the United States—study with light from kerosene lamps.

Each year, kerosene emits thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is also expensive and potentially deadly. Families are at risk for burns as well as asthma and pneumonia from inhaling the toxic carcinogens.

“It’s like breathing in two packs of cigarette smoke a day from infancy to adulthood,” Hirschfeld, now 19 and a student at Columbia University, told TakePart.

Hirschfeld heard about this health crisis from a neighbor in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, who ran LitWorld, a literacy program in Africa. He thought he could find a way to help people have better light. Through research, he learned that solar lanterns seemed the most obvious, and practical, choice.

“There’s no reason against using clean healthy light like solar,” Hirschfeld said. “Families aren’t paying per unit when they are using solar.”

That’s when Lit! Solar, a revolving microfinance fund that helps families replace kerosene lamps with safe, emission-free solar lanterns, was launched.

Hirschfeld partnered with his neighbor’s literacy organization and set out to raise money to buy lanterns. He and a team raised enough money at a local farmers market to send 20 lanterns to Africa with LitWorld volunteers.

To get the most for the money, Hirschfeld searched for companies that would help arrange the transport of the lanterns while offering price breaks. Currently, a lantern costs about $7 to produce.

So far, Hirschfeld’s program has provided solar lanterns to more than 10,000 people in Kenya, Fiji, the Philippines, Haiti, and even to Native Americans on reservations in the United States.

The lanterns not only benefit students, but they are also changing the lives of the students’ parents.

Hirschfeld recounted the story of a woman named Doreen Achieng in Kenya who has been able to expand her entrepreneurial business of sewing school uniforms. Because of her daughter’s lantern, she was able to sew at night. She made enough money to buy another lantern for her relatives in rural Kenya.

The lantern also made Achieng’s family healthy again.

“She had told me that before she got the lantern, she and her school-aged daughter and infant son had all been passing back the same pneumonia,” Hirschfeld said. “The hospital medication was expensive, but the doctors weren’t addressing the root problem, which was that they were breathing in the kerosene smoke every day.”

Once the family received a solar lantern, their pneumonia disappeared.

“She told me that was the longest period of good health that they could remember,” Hirschfeld said.

Other families have started reading together as a nightly activity.

“Parents don’t have to say anymore, ‘You have finished the homework, so shut off the kerosene lamp so we aren’t spending the fuel,’ ” Hirschfeld said. “The literacy learning is now filtering up to the parents who may not be literate now.”

In July, Lit! Solar received one of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, which was worth $36,000. Hirschfeld plans to use the money to provide solar lanterns to another 15,000 students and families in Kenya, Guinea, and Nigeria.

Currently, many volunteers around the United States lead Lit! Solar chapters in schools and colleges.

“We are always looking for people in leadership roles to bring this issue up for a discussion in their own communities,” Hirschfeld said.

“We encourage American students to start chapters in their own school to raise funds and interact with students who they help in developing countries. I hope we can find a way to provide clean, healthy light to every student and family that needs it.”

By: Suzi Parker | Take Part Magazine |


JL A (281)
Tuesday July 23, 2013, 9:44 pm
Thanks for sharing this beacon of light with us Kit!

Beverly T (82)
Tuesday July 23, 2013, 10:33 pm
Oh how I needed to read this. All I have to do is hit the back arrow to the list of headlines to become throughly depressed all over again. This is indeed a beacon in the darkness. Thanks

Past Member (0)
Tuesday July 23, 2013, 10:37 pm
Bloody wonderful

Christeen Anderson (369)
Tuesday July 23, 2013, 10:42 pm
Many kudos to Ben. Please keep up the good work. Thank you.

Alice C (1797)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 9:22 am
Thanks for this post ~ However care2 will not allow me to send you another star : )

Alice C (1797)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 9:24 am

Theodore Shayne (56)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 9:47 am
Noted & posted

Angelika R (143)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 12:41 pm
How wonderful, bless these bright youngsters with such awesome ideas and skills!

Sheila D (194)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 9:01 pm
Fantastic. It's so good to sea positive stories like this when we have so much gloom and doom. These are what keeps us going. Thank you very much and noted.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday July 24, 2013, 11:58 pm
Thank you for the good news Miss Kitty! Thank you for all the informations you provide!

Lisa W (143)
Thursday July 25, 2013, 1:43 pm
Wonderful, thanks Kit!

Rose Becke (141)
Monday July 29, 2013, 9:19 pm
Great stuff
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