Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta were graduate students at Columbia University’s School of Architecture in 2010 when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. In one of their classes, they were assigned to develop a new innovation to help with disaster relief. Many students focused on designing shelters but, after speaking to a relief worker in Haiti, the two discovered that an often-ignored need following disasters was access to light. The pair focused on designing a solar-powered lantern and spent several years refining their design. Now their inflatable, waterproof, and solar-powered light — called the LuminAID Solar Light — is being distributed to those in need in several countries.
Their unique lantern is designed to meet the needs of people in the aftermath of a disaster but many outdoor enthusiasts have also become fans of its innovative design (it even made National Geographic’s 2013 Gear of the Year list). After being charged in the sun for six hours, the LED light provides up to 16 hours of light — a feature that not only makes it more eco-friendly but essential in emergency situations when batteries are hard to find. Due to its inflatable design, it also provides diffuse light like a lantern so it can be used to illuminate a room or tent. Moreover, since disasters often involve water, Stork and Sreshta made it waterproof and able to float.
They also made sure to add a sturdy handle to the light because, as Stork explains, “We heard that in the tent cities people really wanted something they could easily take to the latrine at night, so it was very handy to have a handle to carry it around.” And, because they can be packed flat, 50 LuminAID lights can be shipped in the same space needed for 8 conventional flashlights — an especially significant difference when humanitarian organizations are sending relief aid in large volumes.
When the two young social entrepreneurs founded their company, LuminAID, they used a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to raise the capital needed for their first batch of 1,000 lights. They have since created a Give Light Project where, for each light purchased on their website, the buyer can donate a light to a project site. Over the past year, they have distributed more than 8,000 donated lights across projects in 15 countries and their current campaign supports NGO partners working in Haiti, Ghana, and India. As they grow, they hope to expand their reach by working with large, international aid organizations.
One of their partners in Rwanda, a non-profit called Ubushobozi that teaches girls and young women vocational skills, recently distributed donated lights to their students. Almost none of the students have electricity in their homes and the program coordinator reports that the lights have had a huge impact on their lives. Not only are they able to study in the evening, many of the girls report feeling much safer at night.
As the LuminAID has gone from class project to a real relief tool, Stork and Sreshta are more driven than ever to get it into the hands of those in need during disasters. As Sreshta explains, “conditions once the sun goes down can be very unsafe, especially for women and children. After the earthquake in Haiti, there were many cases of violence, kidnapping and rape. Light is a basic human need, but [conventional technology] costs too much to ship and pack as part of disaster relief.” Now, thanks to the work of these two creative innovators, more people will have access to the gift of light during the darkest of times.
For an excellent book to inspire your Mighty Girl about female innovators and inventors throughout history, check out “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women” for readers 8 to 13.
For younger readers, we highly recommend “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” a wonderful picture book about a young Mighty Girl inventor for ages 4 to 9.
For more ways to encourage your Mighty Girl’s interest in invention and engineering, check out the Mighty Careers blog post “I Want To Be An Engineer!” filled with recommendations for girl-empowering books, toys, and clothing.
For many at-home project ideas to encourage your children’s interest in invention, we also recommend two newly released parenting books: “Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors” and “Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects.”
A Mighty Girl also has a section of stories that feature poverty and hardship as a significant theme. Such stories provide opportunities for parents to discuss these topics with their children while also helping to foster children’s empathy for people living in difficult circumstances.
Poverty / Hardship – Social Issues – Books
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