by Wendy Foster
“Lighting is the fastest way out of poverty,” said Nancy Economou of Downers Grove. “It’s crazy. Lighting affects everything and we don’t really think about it.” With that in mind, Nancy founded Watts of Love, a not-for-profit dedicated to providing solar lighting to impoverished people around the world.
Nancy was formerly in jewelry sales and design for Cartier in Chicago, and is the mother of five boys. While on a business trip to the Philippines in 2008, she witnessed what she said was abject poverty compounded by life in darkness, as well as the impact that lack of safe lighting had on the lives of families. Kerosene, which is commonly used where there is no electricity, she said, provides poor lighting and is dangerous and expensive. An estimated 1.2 million people die annually from kerosene related illnesses and injuries.
‘This trip opened my eyes to living without electricity and what that means; the ramifications. I put myself in that situation and wondered how mothers do things without light. I thought about how difficult that would be,” she said. “I came home and told my husband that I felt like I was being called to bring solar light to people in developing countries.”
“Solar lighting is a very simple solution to a huge issue,” she said. “Just one solar light, which will last two to three years, is an investment in a family. When you give a family light, it’s the equivalent of me paying off your mortgage for the next two to three years.
With light, Nancy said, hours of productivity are extended. “There’s more time for people to work, to educate themselves, and their health will be better,” she said. “With proper lighting, people now have the opportunity to raise themselves out of poverty.”
Watts of Love designs, manufactures, and delivers solar lights. A donation of $40 will put a solar light with a USB charger into the hands of someone in a remote area.
Nancy gave an example of the impact that one such light has had on a family. A woman with seven children was spending 20 pesos, or the equivalent of roughly 50 cents each, day on kerosene. After receiving a solar light from Watts of Love, the woman was able to use the evening hours when her children were sleeping, to produce bamboo barbecue sticks. “She was able to sell sticks for 20 pesos,” Nancy said. Furthermore, the woman let neighbors use the USB port on the solar light to charge their cell phones. Nancy explained that as many as 90% of the people in the woman’s village have cell phones because they provide the only way to communicate. “Cell phones are often a lifeline. But people have to walk two or three hours away to charge them. “Four neighbors paid this woman five pesos to charge their phones so she made 60 pesos, the first day she had light. This tripled the family’s income. It’s staggering. The stories are staggering.”
There are thousands of similar stories. Since its inception Watts of Love has provided 5500 lights to people around the globe, including the Philippines, Haiti, Mozambique, Kenya, Cambodia, Liberia, Iraq, and a leper colony in India. Much of their work is done with local partners in the regions. For additional information or to learn how to support Watts of Love, visit www.WattsOfLove.org -Wendy Foster