OneMillionLightsPhilippines: kindness is the fuel that lights the lives of others
While still in junior high school, Mark Lozano co-founded One Million Lights Philippines (OMLP), a Philippines chapter of the international non-profit One Million Lights based in California, with a small group of friends. Through OMLP, they work with communities and families across the Philippine Islands replacing toxic, hazardous and costly kerosene lamps with solar-powered lights. Since starting the initiative in 2010, they’ve helped light up communities in 33 out of 81 provinces in the Philippines, providing over 80,000 Filipinos with access to clean, safe, and affordable energy.
“Kindness brings a level of understanding and connection that allows you to pinpoint the issues that need to be solved and create solutions that take into consideration the intricacies that complex problems have. Kindness humanises issues and allows people to feel empathy which is crucial to understanding the real needs of others.”
Mark and his friends and teammates working with a community
Mark's #KindnessMattersfortheSDGs story:
“We found Barangay Dugui Too, one of the most isolated communities living in Catanduanes, a small island in the south of The Philippines, for our first project of distributing 250 solar-powered lights. The community was made up of between 100-200 families who live in an area which is essentially in the path of every typhoon that hits The Philippines. Their houses are actually blown away or destroyed on an annual basis meaning that these families have to rebuild their homes almost every single year, having to relocate a couple of yards away from where they were before each time.
The reason why we thought our project would be really helpful for a community like this is because it is an island in the mountains, it means that electricity isn’t an option there. The economics don’t make sense for electricity companies to extend lines to these kinds of places. The alternative this community has is to use kerosene lamps which are very bad for your health. Four hours of exposure each night is like smoking two packs of cigarettes. These families were also running the risk of their houses burning down because they are made from wood. Besides health risks though, the biggest issue with kerosene lamps is the economics. For those families to get kerosene it took typically 30% of their income each month, which is roughly $30 for a family of a minimum of 4-5 people.
When we first approached the community, many of them were actually quite confused. Some of them were very excited and said that it was going to change their life, whilst others had this facial reaction which said, “Oh thanks, but I have a kerosene lamp at home.” We got mixed reactions.
Mark transporting the solar-powered lights to a village
It took us 7 months to plan the project and everything that you could imagine went wrong.
Fundraising was a rollercoaster because we were so young and no-one really trusted us. We were laughed out of a couple of meetings. You can imagine how discouraging that may have been. Our supplier in the USA went bankrupt and we didn’t know where to get the lights we had promised the community. But we eventually found a factory in China who was making the lights. Then a few days before we were due to get the lights, the airline carrying our lights went on strike and we lost them. It was really hard but we had made a promise to the community that we’d be there in a few months with solar power lights for them and it was too hard to admit to them that maybe we wouldn’t be able to do it. On the day before our project was due to start, we finally found a customs broker who was able to release everything for us. We were able to get the lights to the community via a bus, then a ferry and we flew in the next day to start the project. It’s so hard to describe the reaction of the families when we pulled this off.
Hearing them say “Mabalos!” (“thank you” in Bicolano) made everything we had worked on for months worth it. That was the moment we realised there was no turning back. Accidents related to kerosene lamps in the community became next to zero. More than that, income for these families has increased. The lights have allowed them to work longer hours farming abaca deep in the forest since night time is no longer an obstacle for them. In a way, little by little, these people are alleviating themselves from poverty.
After we had completed our first project a lot of local students in The Philippines reached out to us saying they wanted to do similar projects in their communities. At the time we thought we were just working on a summer project but when we realised that we’d had that impact on other young people we knew we had to continue.
I look at kindness as a bridge to acting with empathy. Kindness is what fuels the drive for me to work on these initiatives. They’re not exactly easy projects to work on. They are very complex and have many facets. A connection to the community or to the cause that you have enables you to be able to power through those moments where things feel really hard in the same way that you want to be kind to your friends because you don’t want to let them down. What kindness allows you to do is be more open to the people you are working with - from your partners to the communities you’re working with. It allows you to dig deeper and really understand their point of view. That helps you to build better solutions and ensures that these solutions are not just something you do to satisfy a number. It means that when you do a project it's because you know it’s going to really help others, rather than just look good for a magazine or a video that you can just broadcast to the world.”
Read more about the amazing work of One Million Lights Philippines by visiting the official website - http://onemillionlights.org.ph/