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January 03, 2016

When Anna and Andrea were attaching batteries and solar panels together to make the first solar inflatable lanterns in their kitchen, the two graduate students knew little about how far their lights would go. Five years later, the little idea of the LuminAID light found its way to Malawi in southeast Africa, to help families whose houses has been destroyed by extreme flooding. Anna and Andrea had the opportunity to help out, and see the impact of LuminAID lights in person -- for the first time. The two traveled with LuminAID partner ShelterBox, an international NGO which provides shelter kits to communities affected by natural disasters.

After the extreme flooding in Malawi, there were huge numbers of houses and crops destroyed across half of the country’s districts. Extreme flooding forced entire villages to relocate, requiring them to rebuild from scratch. Families need to be able to cover the basics while they work to rebuild their homes and livelihood. The light and shelter that ShelterBox and LuminAID provide is simple, but impactful. Anna saw the effect firsthand. “It takes time to rebuild a home when you also have to work in the fields the entire day or take care of your family. Everyone we met was so incredibly grateful for the help they received when they really needed it.“

Malawi luminaid happy

Happy beneficiaries in Kalima, Malawi

One individual in particular showed them how light and shelter could empower the incredible community within the village, by simply taking care of the necessities. Anna recalls,  “Most people in the villages did not speak English, but we met this one young man who spoke perfect English and helped us translate. He expressed how grateful everyone was for receiving supplies and said what we were doing was very good because his village was struggling so much. It made me hopeful for the future of the village if people like this would be there and were receiving a good education, and grateful to be able to provide lights to these families and all these young students, who could hopefully now better study at night.”

Besides being used for studying and household activities, Anna explained that the light from the LuminAIDs turned out to be important in surprising ways: “We never thought snakes at night would be an issue, but it really is something people have to be very careful of…[The villagers] said the LuminAIDs were really helpful to see if there were any snakes inside their homes at night.” It was humbling to see how light is often taken for granted, yet can be transformative in many ways for families affected by natural disasters.

The power of light is already in action in other regions in need around the globe. More than 25,285 LuminAID lights have been distributed in conjunction with ShelterBox relief kits. The solar rechargeable light allows families to go about their activities in tents and after dark, without having to worry about fuel or fire hazards from other lighting methods. By taking care of the necessities, the shelter and renewable light provided by ShelterBox and LuminAID allow lives disrupted by disaster an opportunity to rebuild.

Malawi Luminaid field

ShelterBox and LuminAID providing aid in Katuma, Malawi

This philosophy of providing the necessity of light to those who really need it drove the belief and design behind the LuminAID from the beginning. For Anna and Andrea, getting to see the people whose lives are made easier with durable and renewable light was transformative. Andrea remarks that “participating in the distribution of aid in the field was a really eye opening experience for me. It made me realize how much work goes into distributing aid, and this was even in a relatively quiet period some time after the flooding.”

“Even more than ever,” Anna explains, “I really feel like the organizations we work with are our partners. We have so much respect for what they do.” Together, ShelterBox and LuminAID are working together to bring shelter and living necessities to families in need from Malawi to Nepal. Learn how to get involved here.

Malawi field
Mount  Mulanje, Malawi
Photo Credits: Liv Williams, ShelterBox

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