Youngsters in Uganda can now play sports at night. And they can see opponents, balls and goals.
So can kids in Haiti. And so, too, can those in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
Gratitude goes to their peers in Raleigh who have spent the past year making solar-powered lights to send across the globe to replace candles and kerosene lamps.
Fifteen teens at Raleigh nonprofit Neighbor To Neighbor have partnered with West Virginia-based New Vision Renewable Energy as a Global I.M.P.A.C.T. youth mentoring team.
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Now, they’re empowered to help repower an estimated 1.3 billion people around the world who live in energy poverty or are otherwise affected by darkness.
They do it by connecting a battery to a 12-watt solar panel by day to charge. At night, the battery is connected to LED lights on reflective paper. Turn the battery on, and voila! There’s light, at home, at work and at play.
So far, the Neighbor To Neighbor teens have made about 60 solar-powered lights.
It was all on display on a recent Friday night at Davie Street Park. The N2N Solar Light Summer Games featured field lighting and glow-in-the-dark sports equipment for soccer, ultimate Frisbee, disc golf and basketball.
There was also a one-of-a-kind solar-powered gaga ball pit.
Last year, Neighbor To Neighbor used a mini-grant awarded by Voices Into Action, a group focused on access to healthy food and safe places to play, to build a permanent skate park on its Blount Street property.
This time, a small grant from Bank of America made it possible for New Vision to partner with Neighbor To Neighbor and others in North Carolina.
“Most kids think most things are made in China,” said Ruston Seaman, the New Vision founder who patented the solar-powered lighting technique. “But that’s just because they haven’t been challenged or given the opportunity to make products they use.
“Sometimes big problems take creative solutions. That’s good mentoring.”
The project takes a bite out of childhood obesity, too.
“In a lot of places, it’s too hot to play outside sports,” Seaman said. “Our lighting is a gift.”
We have to give kudos to 17-year-old Tiffany Williams for her quick thinking during a Christian Community Development Association National Conference hosted in Raleigh last year. There, Williams heard Seaman’s call for youth-centered programs in our area for partnership.
“I thought it was a good opportunity for us,” said Williams, a freshman at UNC-Greensboro. “I wanted to step up for Neighbor To Neighbor before anybody else did.”
While it’s all about repowering communities, the New Vision project also engages young people as leaders and problem solvers. It champions business entrepreneurship and job preparation and builds character, said Royce Hathcock, executive director of Neighbor To Neighbor.
The project also teaches youth – and the community – to repurpose materials by using old political campaign signs as a backing for the lights.
“We’re helping people, and we’re giving them light – new energy,” said Andrew Fernandes, 18, who is excited about finding a way to add solar lighting to skateboards. “We’re changing lives around the globe.”
And their own lives.
“It’s a great way for all of us to get to know each other better,” said Sarah Lapinskes, a 15-year-old student at Garner High School. “I don’t live in this community, but I’m getting to know it better.
“If you know people better, you can serve them better.”
Fernandes, who attends Wake Tech Community College, hopes to expand the project in our neck of the woods.
Lapinskes agreed: “That means we’d share the same dream we have to spread light to the world.”
Williams wants to witness.
“I want to be one of the people to take some of the lights back to Africa to see what our lights are actually doing for lives and communities there,” she said. “I want to experience it myself.”