News

ECE Professor John Bowers and his non-profit Unite to Light reach 100K milestone

June 19th, 2018

unite to light celebration
This past spring, Unite to Light, the nonprofit founded by Bowers, reached a major milestone by distributing its 100,000th solar-charged LED light with solar-charging battery pack to someone who lacks safe, reliable, bright light

“Unite to Light is focused on getting light to those who could not otherwise afford it — children who are learning to read or need to study after dark, midwives — and also to health clinics and as part of disaster response,” said Unite to Light executive director, Megan Birney, in an article about the nonprofit published in the UCSB Current in 2017. “Supplying solar lights to midwives, refugees and new mothers falls squarely into our mission of providing tools for those in need so that they may have a better opportunity to survive and thrive.”

Since the nonprofit was founded in 2011, the lights have been distributed in more than 65 countries, including in Bangladesh, where they were given to Rohingya refugees — and especially pregnant women — fleeing violence in Myanmar, as well as in Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Maria cut out electricity on the island, and in Ghana, South Africa, Haiti, and Peru, to name several.

The lights are valuable to students who live in remote villages and may have only candles or kerosene-fueled lamp light after dark. In South Africa, high school students must pass the official school exit exam in order to graduate and have any chance of getting a job. In the nation’s KwaZulu Natal region, where the unemployment rate is around 50 percent, pass rates for the critical exam have increased by twenty to thirty percent in areas where the lights were distributed.

In the United States, lights have also been distributed to people who spend the night in cars, targeting especially school children in that group so that they can do their homework at night. Lights have also been distributed in some native-American tribal areas that lack infrastructure.

“I’m proud of the job Megan Birney is doing as president of Unite to Light in expanding our connections in Haiti and South Africa,” said John Bowers in June while participating in a 2,745-mile unsupported bicycle ride from Canada to the Mexico border to raised funds for Unite to Light. “We are seeing a twenty- to thirty-percent increase in graduation rates with students who have lights. That means we’re helping an additional thirty thousand students graduate from high school, which is really, really exciting. Our next goal is one million lights!”

College of Engineering News – "John Bowers and Unite to Light Reach 100K Milestone" (full article)

Unite to Light

Bowers' COE Profile