A Liter of Light – Solar Powered Bottles

Cebu, Philippines

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to shoot a project that is helping to change lives in an extraordinary way. MyShelter Foundation has always been at the forefront of creative and groundbreaking technologies and this is their latest venture called a Liter of Light (Isang Litrong Liwanag). The concept is simple. By using plastic bottles and filling them with water you create a prism that captures sunlight and disperses it into a home. Before I heard about this project I had no idea that not having access to light during daylight hours was such a large scale problem. Before going into this community it was hard for me to visualize homes having dark rooms when it was so bright and hot outside. I thought all people had to do is open a window or door and let some light in. However, when we arrived into this community I immediately began to see the completely dark toilets, rooms and alleys that did not have a single source of light. Using a simple concept like the bottle light suddenly seemed ingenious.

A child reading under a solar powered light installed in a slum area of Cebu City. MyShelter Foundation’s latest venture is a project called ‘A Liter of Light’ which aims to brighten up one million homes in the Philippines by 2012.
Illac Diaz, founder of MyShelter Foundation, showing a husband and wife their new bottle light.
Stefan from Diversey Corporation shows how much light one bottle can create. Before the light was installed this area above a public staircase was completly dark even during daylight hours. Now community members can see, which makes going up and down the stairs much safer.

There is a continuous problem of access to light and legal electricity by a number of homes throughout the Philippines, whether they are located in urban or rural areas. Small, crowded communities (shanty areas) are often covered in darkness even during the day because of the lack of ambient light. Using the electricity for 24 hours a day raises the households expenses by around 40%. For these households, this percentage makes a significant difference to their expenses where their income ranges from minimum wage to less than a dollar a day. While opting for candles as their light source saves them from the unnecessary expense, it also endangers them and creates a fire hazard for the entire community. Latest statistics (2005) show that out of 10,728 fire incidences in the country, 5,105 of them were caused either by an open flame or through problematic electrical connections. (Source)

Installing a bottle light on the roof of a toilet outhouse. Sunlight enters the bottle and reflects off of the water inside producing a glowing light equivalent to a 55 watt electric bulb.
Shanty neighborhoods like this one are the areas where bottle lights are often put to best use. Due to the often lack of access to electricity and poor living conditions, the bottle lights address simple basic needs within these communities.
A tablet of bleach is placed into each bottle which kills all the microorganisms assuring the water does not turn cloudy. The lifespan of each bottle light is between 5-10 years.

Besides the obvious benefits of having light in dark places, providing these essential basic needs within a community often empowers individuals. If a child has another place in their home to read a book, perhaps the child will stay more motivated to learn and go to school longer. If a person doesn’t have to use the bathroom in complete darkness perhaps they will feel better about themselves and contribute more to their community. I’m sure we can think of numerous ways where being able to see in dark places can help uplift and improve the quality of life. For around 50 pesos (USD $1.10) per light I can’t think of a better and more simple way to do this.

Before and after pictures showing the effectiveness of the solar powered bottle lights. This particular room had two lights installed.
Students from the University of San Jose Recoletos volunteering their time to make the solar powered bottles. It takes between 10-30 minutes to prepare a bottle for installation.
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