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School life | Years 3-5 help give the gift of light

19 June 2018
As part of Wellington’s ongoing and expanding commitment to supporting charities, Ms Tia Luker, one of our Prep School teachers, is continuing her excellent work with the Australian registered charity, SolarBuddy. Through the charity, Ms Luker aims to light up parts of the world that suffer from energy poverty, while at the same time switching Wellington pupils’ minds on to the importance of helping to provide sustainable energy for marginalised international communities.
Around two years ago, SolarBuddy came to my previous school in China to complete a pilot project. Once I saw what they were doing, what they offered and how they were planning to tackle the global issue of energy poverty, I knew that I had to get involved. I very quickly fell in love with the programme and I feel extremely proud and fortunate to be in a position to help the Wellington community lend its support to this vital charitable cause. To briefly explain the problem: 1.3 billion people around the world currently live in a state of energy poverty. That is, they cannot maintain reliable access to the kind of safe, modern energy services that we take for granted. Not only does this lack of energy access close off various economic opportunities and the ability to improve their daily lives, it actively endangers many isolated communities who are forced to burn kerosene in enclosed spaces as their primary source of fuel. This is an extremely dangerous practice, as it frequently leads to women and children suffering from burns as well as kerosene poisoning from breathing in fumes.

Shining a light on the problem

Partnered with the WWF and Earth Hour, the SolarBuddy charity is committed to helping communities like this all over the world, by providing them with a cheap, reliable and renewable source of light. The SolarBuddy itself is a very simple but vital portable light that also houses a 0.6W solar panel. It is waterproofed, shock proofed, durable against accidental damage and extremely easy to use and assembled only using a screwdriver. It provides 10 hours of light when on the full light setting – 16 hours if turned to the half-light setting – and can be fully recharged in just 8 hours of exposure to sunlight. This can (and does) make a massive difference to people who have zero access to electricity, by providing them with a safe and reliable source of light.

Wellington’s first SolarBuddy project

I started working with the charity two years ago and have been part of projects sending hundreds of SolarBuddy lights to impoverished and disaster-struck communities across the world, most recently in Thailand. Now, we’re planning to send over 200 lights to a community in Cambodia who are similarly in need of them. This will be Wellington’s first SolarBuddy project but I’m already hugely excited and so are the pupils in years 3-5 who will be getting involved. The pupils’ main contribution will be to become responsible for raising the money to sponsor their own individual SolarBuddy light. By signing a contract with their parents, they will complete chores and any other agreed activities to raise the necessary 150RMB that will completely cover the costs of manufacturing, packaging and transporting their light. In previous projects, we’ve had a lot of success with this approach, as the pupils are personally connected to the idea of doing their part to make people’s lives safer and better. Equally important are the supporting activities that the pupils will be doing to better understand the issue and importance of energy poverty. This years 3-5 will have their IPC lessons dedicated to the concept of sustainable energy. They will be learning all about renewable energy sources, writing letters to the Cambodian community who will be receiving the lights, and completing lots of hands-on activities that underline the importance and value of having reliable energy access. To me, this is just as important as the fundraising element of the project, because it helps the children gain a global perspective about how different people live in various parts of the world. They will come to understand that not everyone has the same access to the opportunities that they enjoy, and through that understanding, they will assume a greater sense of responsibility to help wherever they can. Once children understand the nature of the world’s problems, they will find a way to become part of the solution.

Delivering a solar-powered solution

As I look at the 225 SolarBuddy lights that are neatly stacked up in my classroom, waiting to be sponsored and then delivered to Cambodia in a few short weeks, I would like to thank everyone who has thrown themselves into this project. From the pupils who are so excited to be an active part of it, to the parents who have responded so enthusiastically to its purpose and the teachers who are delivering lessons on sustainable energy. I hope that this will be the first in a long series of Wellington-based SolarBuddy projects. It’s also another first for me personally, as I will be travelling with the lights to deliver them to the receiving community. Needless to say, I’ll be coming back to Wellington with plenty of photos, letters and great memories to share! If you are interested in becoming involved in Wellington’s SolarBuddy project, please don’t hesitate to contact Ms Luker at