In Guatemala, more light means better lives, more opportunity.
Retiree provides solar flashlights to impoverished Guatemalans,extending their days and improving their lives.
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – March 17, 2014 – Every day, a few minutes on either side of 6:00 p.m., when the sun goes down on the 31,000 residents of Cahabon, Guatemala, the majority of them enter a world of darkness that endures until the sun returns the following morning. With no electricity available and no money to buy even candles – let alone oil lamps or flashlights and batteries – the residents of Cahabon live 12-hour days that last 24 hours: Its location, as the cuervo flies, is about 85 miles northeast of the capital of Guatemala City, or just 15° north of the equator. For them, every day of the year brings just 12 hours of sunlight.
On one of her dozen humanitarian trips that began 15 years ago, Bonnie Tout, a retiree living on Social Security, recognized that for these Guatemalans, extended available light could translate into improved quality of life. Her solution was to take and distribute 60 solar rechargeable flashlights – and later another 96 – provided initially by another company and subsequently by Verilux, Inc., at a heavily reduced price. Verilux has its Marketing and Research and Development Departments in St. Paul.
Tout says the benefit has been amazing.
“The flashlights have made an enormous difference in these people’s lives,” Tout explained. “They extend the time people have to do chores, prepare meals, read, study, enjoy each other, and engage in activities that make an impoverished existence a bit more fulfilling and livable.”
A Verilux ReadyLight Solar Rechargeable Flashlight has an eight-square-inch solar panel on its side and, fully charged, provides eight to 10 hours of illumination from six LEDs. The light is full spectrum: It mimics the best qualities of natural light, so these families can see moreclearly and experience less fatigue than with conventional light. The flashlights are made of durable plastic and have a carabiner-style hook.
Tout also noted that without the flashlights, many residents would get their light via bottles filled with kerosene and a crude wick that provided far inferior illumination, posed a carbon-monoxide risk, and could be a fire hazard.
The flashlights are so coveted that residents protect them against damage and secure them in whatever ways they can: Olga Yalibat Macz of nearby Cobán has slept with hers under her pillow since she got it five years ago. Tout is also quick to point out the magnitude of the missing light.
“Cahabon is one of literally hundreds of communities in Guatemala that have no access to electricity,” she says. “That translates into thousands of people whose only available light comes from the sun. That works in the daytime but not so well after sunset.”
In addition to the benefit of the light, Tout sees the sale and distribution of solar flashlights as a sustainable business opportunity for the locals. She’s quick to add, though, that their price would have to be heavily subsidized to make the flashlights affordable to folks who can afford very little. In one effort last December, residents were able to sell 40 Verilux solar flashlights, but at the price the market could bear, it left them little or no profit.
“I have huge respect for these Guatemalans – for their strength, agility and ability to adapt to a rugged environment,” Tout said. “A successful solar flashlight enterprise would be a small but important step to moving them out of poverty and into a better life.”
Nicholas Harmon, Verilux CEO, has been glad to help.
“Those of us in the developed world take light for granted, and its availability greatly impacts how much we can accomplish and how much we can enjoy our daily lives,” he said. “Turn off the lights, and you’ve turned off opportunity.”