As a child, Jacqueline Gallardo struggled to study by candlelight and grew up afraid to simply walk outside during the early mornings and evenings that marked her days in the Dominican Republic.
She was just one of the nearly 9 million people who still, to this day, experience nightly blackouts and live without a safe and reliable source of light. In short, the country’s electrical grid is one big, unreliable short-circuit, and many families live off of that grid entirely.
To cope, children typically forge makeshift torches together from sticks retrofitted with moldy bread and kerosene to light the paths of their long dark walks to and from school. Naturally, these torches and candles tend to start fires and cause respiratory problems over time. When no light source can be found, these children often can’t do their homework at all.
Now an adult, Gallardo believes she has found a reliable solution that will also save families money on batteries, fuel, and candles, which can account for 25% of a working class family’s salary.
The answer comes in the form of solar powered lanterns, which cost just $5 per family to provide, and last 12 hours for every 6-8 hour charge.
With the ultimate goal of bringing light to the 88% of the Dominican Republic that goes without, Gallardo and co-founder Shawn Hakim formed the Dominican Light Project, a social enterprise that has successfully delivered these lanterns to 2,000 people in local villages by partnering with functionaries like Dominican Major League Baseball All-Star Albert Pujols’ Pujols Family Foundation.
The lanterns have already been making a difference in the lives of children like Rafael, who lives in a remote village and must wake up every morning at 5:00am to begin his long journey to school.
Rafael has spent the better part of his first nine years walking five miles through the pitch black forest to reach the first bus that will take him to his school. After the first bus, there is another bus, and more distance to walk before he reaches his classroom.
Following the school day, Rafael and other children in his community travel for hours to get back to their respective villages, often arriving after dark with no opportunity to complete their homework or to properly continue their studies.
Rafael was one of the lucky children provided a solar lantern during the first phase of distribution by Esenciales J.S. SRL, the social enterprise and activist team behind the campaign. The light of a solar lantern allows him to see where he is going, so he can move much faster than when he relied on memory alone to guide him.
In the year since receiving the lantern, Rafael’s family has reported that the new light source cut down on his school commute by one full hour, he was able to use that extra hour to study by the lantern’s light, and his grades have improved.
For other children in the village, the solar lantern was the first physical object that they owned themselves.
“Each lantern serves as a tool that is proven to fight against the educational, economical, heath, security, and social issues that exist in families without light,” said Hakim. “It is a simple yet multi-faceted device that is a building block towards prosperity.”
An Indiegogo campaign on May 2 to raise money for more lanterns, with the ultimate goal of raising $25,000.