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  • Solar lamps brighten future in Madagascar

Oct 2011
Ashley N. Paddock,

SOUTHAMPTON, UK – A solar-powered lighting project gives families in Madagascar a cleaner, safer and more affordable alternative for lighting their homes.

Traditionally, kerosene lamps have been the source of light in rural communities across the developing world. These lanterns emit toxic fumes that affect respiratory health, offer no economic opportunities and provide poor-quality light. They are expensive, often accounting for one-third of a family’s expenses, and their annual emission is 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Now, a student-run group called SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) at the University of Southampton has established the Right Light project, whose goal is to increase the use of solar lamps in developing communities to improve health and education as well as increase disposable income.

The idea for the project came from geography student Michael Austin.

“Having worked on a microfinance project in Madagascar while in my first year at university – as part of the same society called SIFE – I had learned that it was possible to create change through microfinance when in a different country,” Austin said. “Reading about solar lamps online, I realized the possibilities it has for development, but how it is to many families still an unaffordable luxury. So, putting the two together, I began to plan a project that would make solar lamps affordable.”

Families in Ambalamarine, Madagascar, pose with their solar-powered lamps provided by the Right Light project. Its goal is to provide clean, safe and affordable light. Courtesy of the University of Southampton.

The project’s goal is to make the solar lights, which cost £12 each, affordable to families who may earn only £8 a month. The Right Light organizers implemented a microcredit model, allowing families to pay 10 percent of the cost of a lamp in the first month, followed by weekly repayments of 20 pence over the remaining 12 months.

Ninety-three families across three communities in Madagascar have participated. Austin reports that they have reduced their household expenditures by 10 percent and that respiratory problems have been reduced by 75 percent. And the solar lights have helped 408 children to study better at night.

Austin said the group plans to extend the project by allowing entrepreneurs in Madagascar to rent out lamps to their communities. Right Light is building a website to help support this project.

The students worked with Feedback Madagascar, a UK-based charity, and solar lamp manufacturer Tough Stuff, which provided the lamps and advice on their use.

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