Friday, February 6, 2015

Igniting the Spark

3:18 AM

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Every idea begins as a spark. A spark that lights up one’s eyes as an idea unfolds. A spark that changes the way things are perceived, therefore bringing about new ideas. Such was the case with One Million Lights Philippines (OML PH), a non-profit, youth-led organization that brings solar-powered lights to many off-grid communities here in the Philippines.

Founded by Mark Lozano and Tricia Peralta back in 2010, what started out as an idea floating around to bring about change turned into a full-fledged and multi-awarded organization that has given more than three thousand solar-powered lights to numerous areas to date and continues to hope to light up the archipelago one community at a time.

“I guess that I was never really content with the amount of opportunities I had to help others, growing up,” says Mark, currently in his third year of Applied Economics in De La Salle University. “I mean, sure, I was exposed to a lot of stuff in [PAREF] Southridge; I had the medical missions and at the parish we had those also; we had packing and all those different things but then what I found out was [that] no one really wanted to give me a big role.”

In his third year in high school, Mark went to the Global Youth Leaders Conference (GYLC) in the United States, and it was there he met 15 and 16 year olds who spent their summers drilling wells in Africa and doing medical missions in far flung areas. It was there that he realized that age wasn’t a limitation, but an opportunity to do something big: that anyone can help those around them as long as they put their heart into it.

When he returned to Manila, Mark began thinking of what he could do in the Philippines given that there were already many organizations that bring food, medicines, and the like to off-grid communities. Coincidentally, there was a brownout in his home, and ironically, an idea sparked in his head.

“I realized [that] by talking to other people that, while this was an inconvenience to me, millions of Filipinos didn’t have light on a regular basis,” he explains.  “And at that moment it was like ‘Oh wow, that’s something that needs help.’”

Unfortunately, access to safe and affordable lights isn’t as simple as it may seem. A majority of the families who live in the provinces usually resort to kerosene lamps, which besides the weekly upkeep, entails the danger of inflicting burns on fishermen, farmers, and even children trying to work or study at night. OML has encountered many families who live in the most remote areas and had to consider kerosene lamps as part of their daily budget. Amounting to 10-30 pesos per kerosene bottle, families have to worry about constantly refilling their kerosene lamps before they can use them.

Furthermore, these lamps contribute to the carbon dioxide absorbed by the environment – and according to the World Health Organization, inhaling the fumes of a kerosene lamp for a couple of hours is similar to smoking a pack or two of cigarettes. With the introduction of solar lights however, all these dangers and taxing costs were eliminated.

“We started the organization just looking for purpose, looking for something to do and who would’ve thought that something you know as simple as lights could fill that void, could do that thing,” Mark says.

In its almost five years of existence, Mark admits that OML went through its own growing pains. From learning what it takes to run an organization to dealing with the label of being young, every step they took had its own obstacles, all of which they overcame as the years went by.

“One obstacle was we obviously didn’t know how to do anything when we started,” he said. “I mean right now, we’re a nationally awarded, non-profit organization that has impacted the lives of over 70,000 Filipinos. But when we started, we didn’t know how to write a solicitation letter. We didn’t know how to do a presentation. We didn’t know how to teach people to use the lights. So that’s the first challenge: we didn’t know how to do anything, and what that meant was we did things very slowly at the start. The second thing was we were very young and it was very hard to get people to believe us, ‘cause you know how I said earlier that people always told us, ‘Do it when you’re older, when you have more time, more money, more experience.’ That carried over even when we started our projects.”

Looking into the future, Mark understands that the work they have done for the past four years isn’t finished yet. There are a lot of communities that still need lights, and with regards to the communities they are currently working with, OML continues to work with them so that they can help make the project sustainable.

“2015’s a very big year for us,” Mark mentions. “Assuming everything goes well, we’ll have multiple lines of funding, and over 120 projects for the next few weeks and months. We’re taking our time to train people and get more people involved with the organization so we can become more sustainable.”

Four years have gone by pretty quickly for Mark and OML, and the experiences that he and the organization have gained make them what they are today. In the end, even with all the newfound friends and learnings, the best takeaway OML gets from its projects is realizing what their actions mean to those who need it the most.

“It’s not being able to say that the org is the most accomplished or even to say that we’ve gone to all these places or done these many conferences,” he says. “The fulfilment really comes when you see how much you impact lives.”

Article by Gio
Art by Trianne
Photos courtesy of Mark
Gio Gloria is a junior taking up Applied Economics. He's still hoping for that shot to play under the bright lights of the UAAP but doesn't mind covering it from the sidelines. To this day, he still believes Kobe Bryant is the best player on the planet and that Gummy Bears are the best :F

Trianne is a girl who enjoys meeting new people but tries not to be socially-awkward. She has never ending thoughts about everything and daydreams of lying on a bed of fries. Most of the time you'll hear her passionately singing the wrong line to a song.


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