“the future they can create”



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Hal Aronson, who co-founded We Care Solar with his wife, Laura Stachel, calls himself a solar evangelist. He loves the technology that turns light directly into electricity with no pollution.   He says it’s an elegant, optimistic technology.  It sparks the imagination.

After We Care Solar, Hal had another idea on how to use the solar suitcases he had designed.  The schools and orphanages in the developing countries were also in need of a consistent source of electricity.  Students could not study at night; some would go to gas stations to use their light to prepare for exams.  Kerosene lamps posed dangerous risks, particularly at orphanages. Wild animals roamed free in many remote areas, adding the need for light as safety.  At a School for the Deaf in Kenya where sign language is their mode of communication, all communication would stop at sunset.  The need was great. 

As a Professor of Solar Energy Technology at San Francisco State University, Hal was dedicated to teaching and working with young people.  With the growing demand for solar suitcases at We Care Solar in the maternal healthcare field, they had begun to build its suitcases in factories.  Hal wanted to reignite his desire to teach solar technology to students.  

We Share Solar was an opportunity to bring teachers and students back into the work… and to help other students.  Hal says, it was an opportunity to give them hands on experience and “to give them a sense of the future they can create.” Hal partnered with local schools and teachers in the process.  The teachers told him that their students were excited about making a difference in people’s lives.  

We Share Solar fits in with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) initiative to promote and engage students in these disciplines.  Teachers could use the systems to improve their educational offerings in subjects like geography, sociology, technology and science.  Hal said it works particularly well with girls, since girls are empathetic by nature and one of the ways to turn girls on to science is to associate technology with helping people.  

Hal is clearly excited to engage young people in technology and empower youth to have agency in the world.  He is empowered to save lives and he understands that students feel the same way.  The most powerful lesson Hal learned was that in the inner city neighborhoods like Richmond, Detroit and Oakland — where kids experienced violence, drugs and gangs — these students were the most transformed when engaged in this work.  The students gained a sense of purpose and self worth by helping others less fortunate than them.  

The students building the solar suitcases also write letters to the students who are receiving the solar suitcases, connecting them.  Hal’s current project is to engage college students at Cal State to mentor the middle and high school students.  Students helping students helping students.

We Share Solar is in approximately 100 schools throughout the US and they distribute these suitcases to 10 countries: Philippines, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, Haiti, Ecuador and Peru.  

To learn more and support We Share Solar, go to their web site, We Share Solar.



Everytown For Gun Safety


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Erin Dando was a mom living in South Carolina with her family five years ago when the shooting at Sandy Hook School took place.  She recalled walking home with her children from school and for the first time feeling that her children might not be safe. The gun violence in Connecticut had an impact on her own family.

Erin found a Facebook group called Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.  Through her outreach, she started the South Carolina chapter and after two years she applied for a job as an organizing manager.  Moms Demand Action merged with Mayors Against Illegal Guns (founded by Mayor Bloomberg in 2006) and created Everytown for Gun Safety.

Erin’s involvement with Everytown enabled her to look at her own community and see how gun violence has unjustly affected women, children and people of color.  She saw the injustices and the need.  Everytown provided community for survivors.

Erin says gun violence prevention and safety has made progress in the past five years. No one was advocating for gun violence prevention laws in a way that resonated with Erin 5 years ago.  Today, there are 50 chapters across the country advocating for gun safety and providing support for survivors of gun violence.

Everytown volunteers are gun violence prevention advocates standing up for common sense laws, calling, writing letters, meeting with legislators, both Democrats and Republicans.  Erin says that every voice is important and each has a unique perspective.

On the fifth Anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,  more than 4 million supporters including mayors, moms, cops, teachers, doctors, survivors, gun owners, and everyday Americans have come together to make their communities safer.  

Everytown has an education campaign called “Be Smart” calling for safe storage for guns, to make sure children are safe when they visit or live in a home with a gun. To show your support, please sign the Be Smart PictitionBe Smart.

You can get involved or learn more by connecting with a chapter in your community. Check out the website, Everytown or through digital means, text Join 64433 to connect to local chapters.  You can also follow Moms Demand Action and Everytown on Facebook and Twitter.


Seeking a Better Life


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Haroon came to this country in late 2014 from Afghanistan with his wife and children.   They first settled in Baltimore, where they felt unprepared and in shock, but hopeful for a better future.

Haroon worked as a translator/fixer for war correspondents at NBC News in Kabul during 2001-2003.  He had accompanied news correspondents to cover the US army in Afghanistan, and risked his life many times.  Although he had a special visa on behalf of his work with the government with USAID, he and his family received poor services from the resettlement agency when they arrived.

They dealt with many challenges, including getting a drivers license, children adjusting to a new culture and school, affordable housing and a job search.  The children needed to learn English, and Haroon read them stories, translating them to Dari to help them learn.  He describes them as resilient.

The most challenging part for Haroon was finding a job.  After getting a drivers license, Haroon’s first job was driving for Uber.  Although he is a lawyer, he is unable to practice law here until he passes the bar. With little money and time to study, he continued to look for work while driving.

A friend told him about this NGO called Upwardly Global (UpGlo).  When he looked at their web site and saw they helped skilled immigrants, he was interested since he had not seen that term used before in his job search.  UpGlo was immediately responsive.  He was given a mentor to help him sort through the job search process and get training online for interview skills.

Haroon got a job as a Program Specialist with a US Government Contractor in Virginia.  His wife is learning English and his children are in better schools.  Haroon says housing is still an issue as they are on a 3 year waiting list for low income housing.

Haroon says many immigrants come here with a good education and skills.  Many come from areas of conflict.  He hopes the government will be better able to help them win the battle of resettlement and job placement.   Haroon hears about other immigrants who settle with US allies, in places like Canada, Australia and England. He thinks they are better at receiving and settling their newly arrived immigrants, living a life with better education, housing and jobs.

Haroon says UpGlo continues to be a great support for him, providing him with mentors, advisers and opportunities with organized events.  Although Haroon has his job at the Justice Sector Support program for Afghanistan, he still hopes to save money to prepare for the bar so he can advance and practice law, his chosen profession.

Haroon hopes the larger community will understand the plight of immigrants when they first arrive.  They are leaving their roots and are in shock, they are not prepared for the transition.  He says the community they live in now is great with great schools for his children.  He hopes there will be more programs available like Upglo that will help new immigrants with the basics for living: housing, education and jobs.

Haroon still drives for Uber part time to help him pay his bills.  He seeks a better life and remains hopeful.

For more information about Upwardly Global go to their web site, Upwardly Global.  To show your support for refugees, sign the Pictition with your online picture and share it, #Standbyrefugees.

“A Proud Heritage as a Nation of Immigrants”


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Nikki Cicerani, CEO of Upwardly Global, feels called to her work.  Social justice was in her personal founding.  Her grandfather was an immigrant from Italy and had what she called the classic rags-to-riches story.  She came from a blue collar family and recognized at an early age that, for immigrants, the playing field was not level.  She felt isolation and discrimination.  Based on her personal experience, she realized that there were many wrong assumptions made about immigrants.  They have aptitude and motivation, but lack contacts and preparation.  Nikki loved the immigrant spirit which she describes as courageous, resourceful and resilient.  It was a natural fit to bring together skilled immigrants who want to rebuild their career, with employers who are looking for experienced global talent.

Nikki was brought in to Upwardly Global to open the New York office and replicate the UpGlo program with the Founder, Jane Leu.  She helped bring the organization from a regional San Francisco based program to a national organization with a national identity and goals.  Soon after New York, they opened a Chicago office, giving UpGlo footholds in the West, Middle and East Coasts.

Their second phase of growth was to scale and leverage the program with partners in Michigan and Idaho without the brick and mortar. They found other like-minded people and created a coalition of non-profit organizations working to integrate skilled immigrants into the U.S. workforce, called Imprint.  In 2013, Imprint asked Congress to include language in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that would help integrate foreign-educated legal immigrants into the U.S. economy.  That created more visibility with compelling success stories about immigrant contributions and data points to share.  They developed a movement of awareness.

The next phase, Nikki calls field enablement.  UpGlo can offer high quality customized services and community support using data and collective knowledge to advance policy and practice.  They can share their platform for training, resources and tools and offer them to other organizations like a Job Center in Alexandria, Virginia.  Their partners are advocates to help change human service policies to be inclusive on the local level, and work with the Department of Labor and the Department of Education on a national level.

Nikki thinks that the political climate we may experience as unwelcoming to immigrants is not necessarily shared by all immigrants.  The immigrant spirit has a different perspective; our country still stands for values that are more important than this moment in time.  These new immigrants have already adopted this country as their own and they focus on the future of possibilities.

Some immigrants may feel targeted but Nikki says, you can’t paint anyone with a broad brushstroke.  UpGlo wants to continue to communicate that they see immigrants as people and value them and their personal stories and experiences. Their clients come from 100 countries around the world and they trust to share their stories and vulnerabilities with their staff and volunteers.

Nikki’s vision for the future is about a broader movement to ensure we see the immigrant as an asset for our country.  Nikki continues to be patriotic and sees our country with “a proud heritage as a nation of immigrants”.  She hopes UpGlo will play their part to help the US find a 21st Century version of that identity.  She remains optimistic because of the immigrants themselves.  Nikki says, their clients inspire her and will renew our country in so many ways.

To sign a Pictition to show your support of refugees, go to #standbyrefugees. To learn more about Upwardly Global, go to their website, Upwardly Global.




Leading By Example


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Jane Leu, founder of Upwardly Global (UpGlo), believes in the potential of immigrants and a globally diverse workforce.  She grew a network of forward thinking corporate partners and helped them examine their institutional frameworks and ask themselves if their practices are inclusive or exclusive to create positive lasting change.

Jane was an Assistant Director in a national refugee resettlement organization in 1999. Their emphasis was helping newly arrived immigrants get jobs in the first 90 days in America.  She calls them survival jobs.  In that position, she witnessed the low level jobs that educated and professional immigrants were placed in.  These people were not being connected to their professional networks and there was a profound lack of leadership roles available to them.  Jane also saw how immigrants on a societal level were being seen as less than or not at all.  As a group, they were not encouraged to integrate into or contribute to the community.

Jane saw a problem, and took action. She quit her job one day and started Upwardly Global to change the status and attitudes about immigrants who she saw as courageous. Without any funding, she opened up her home and began working with immigrants and refugees full time to help them with the job search process.  Jane helped the refugees with credential evaluations to translate to the American market and connected them with resources and American mentors. This grew to become a volunteer program that now stands at approximately 5,000 people helping immigrants prepare for and navigate the system.

Upwardly Global’s first funder was a Venture Capital Group called Draper, Richards and Kaplan Foundation who enabled them to focus on the employer side of the equation.   After 9/11 and the dot com bust in California, the job market was challenging with lay offs and a political atmosphere fearful of immigrants. That did not stop UpGlo. They reached out to HR professionals and advisory groups to craft different solutions to offer companies.  They worked with government representatives to look at policies and regulations that prevent workforce integration and they built bigger partnerships with leading companies while attracting well connected funding sources.

In 2006, UpGlo opened an office in New York City and in 2009, they opened an office in Chicago.  In 2013, they started an online program and in 2014, they opened an office in Maryland.  Along the way, Jane Leu has received numerous awards and recognition for her social entrepreneurship.

In 2009, Jane left UPGlo as the CEO and currently sits on the board.  Nikki Cicerani became President and CEO and continues the mission to build demand for foreign-born professionals among leading companies, and help meet this demand with screened, qualified candidates who are prepared to succeed in the American workplace. This will enhance economic opportunities for and reduce discrimination against immigrant and refugee professionals.

For the last 18 months, Jane has worked in Germany to help integrate the increasing numbers of newly arrived refugees and immigrants coming across their borders. Many of the challenges there are cultural.  America sees itself as a multi cultural society with a narrative of rags to riches.  Germany, like many other European countries, is more homogeneous and has a more difficult time imagining itself as a diverse community.  As a result of helping employers take advantage of these newly arrived refugees, immigrants now have more choices and there is competition among the companies to attract a strong multi cultural workforce. Jane thinks Germany will inspire other countries who are building a diverse workforce as a model for intentional nation building.

Jane hopes that America’s image as an immigrant nation does not erode with a more isolated and protective political environment.  While UpGlo recently placed 1,000 job seekers from the travel banned countries, fear exists among all immigrants, even those with citizenship.  One of the many positive outcomes from Upwardly Global, is that though immigrants may be of different races, religions and classes which may keep them separate from Americans, the power of the workforce enables them to mix organically with people who share similar professions and passions.

Jane shares that UpGlo recognizes that people do the work they love.  Our work is naturally wrapped up in our identity.  By helping newly arrived immigrants find the work they are passionate about, they are offering them the opportunity to express their core identity and evolve as other Americans to be potential leaders in their workplace and community.  That’s what helps differentiate Upwardly Global from other resettlement agencies.

In partnership with corporations, community engagement through their volunteer program and major donors, UpGlo is a model to re invigorate our country’s founding story as a multi-cultural nation, revitalize our diverse community and build a workforce that can compete in the global marketplace. After all, that is who we are as a nation.  UpGlo leads by example.

To learn more about Upwardly Global, go to their website, Upwardly Global.  To sign a Pictition and show your support for refugees, go to #Standbyrefugees.

A Refugee Story


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Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing

Meg Karki in the middle with Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, Co-founders of 1951 Coffee

When Meg Karki was 3 years old, his family fled their home country of Bhutan and spent the next 19 years in a refugee camp in Nepal.  There, Meg went to school, studied and grew up.  They lived among 1400 hundred families in a bamboo thatched hut provided by a refugee agency.  He said life in the camp was terrible and very difficult. There was no hope.  After a massive fire in 2007, his family had to flee again.

They could not go back to Bhutan or Nepal so they applied to come to the US and after a 3 1/2 year process were resettled by the IRC (International Rescue Committee) in 2011 in Oakland, California.  Meg was 22 years old when he arrived.

Meg said he was so excited to come to the US where he thought there was hope for a new life.  When he arrived, he met people at the IRC and felt well received.  His desire was to go to college and study to enable him to work at an NGO so he could help other refugees after his own experience.  Meg got his GED and went to Laney College in Oakland for 2 years.  He had to leave for economic reasons to help his family.

Meg met Rachel and Doug at the IRC where he was volunteering at a training program.  In 2016, when Rachel and Doug created 1951 Coffee, they offered Meg a job. He soon became a manager and trainer.  While he never imagined he would work at a coffee shop, it turned out that this was the model non profit job he had always wanted, to work with refugees.

Meg said the first 6 months to a year is difficult for any new refugee, leaving their home country and learning a new culture and new language.  He counsels new refugees to see their new life here with more opportunities, more peace and more of a future.  Here, he says, you can do anything you want to do, if you work hard.

Meg feels like this is his home now.  He received his US citizenship in 2016, one of the proudest moments of his life.  He wants to help 1951 Coffee expand into other areas and continue to help new refugees.  Meg wants to help educate the community about refugees and to see them as new neighbors.  His message is, no matter where you are, you can help your neighbor in many ways… with transportation, learning the language in an ESL program or help to write an application for a job or college.  For the refugee, he says, never quit or give up.

For more information about 1951 Coffee , go to their website, 1951 Coffee. 





Collaborating to design a place of hope


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I had the privilege to speak with Sam Bishop, head of Research and Communications at Montaag, a design firm in Berkeley, California.  Montaag was chosen by the founders of 1951 Coffee, Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, to design their unique mission-driven coffee shop.  After the team at Montaag heard 1951’s clear mission, impact and challenge, they wanted to create the design plan.

Montaag’s research team began by interviewing the refugees involved with 1951, to hear their personal stories.  This created the foundational elements around which they built their design. The challenge for the design plan was to put a face and name to the refugee struggle and counter the fear of the refugee with a message of shared humanity.  In addition, they wanted to educate the community and advocate for the refugee in a way that did not take away from the feel good experience of drinking a great cup of coffee, and the opportunity to have a positive encounter with their refugee barista server.

On average the refugee journey can take 17 years!  17 years! Sam called that a paradigm shift. How do you convey these stories and make the Cafe a place of hope? A place of hope for the people who work there as well as for the patrons.

The advocacy experience at the Cafe can be encountered on many levels.  The customer can walk in and immediately walk out with a cup of coffee, or stay to work, or stay and read a story on one of the Cafe walls or stay and chat.  The Cafe needed to be a safe and welcoming space at each of the various touch points.  It also needed to provide a safe space for the server who may be asked about their story by one of their customers.

Their message includes that notion that in the process of buying a cup of coffee you are helping the refugee community.  So it might take multiple visits to understand the plight of the refugee.  One good experience leads to another and with each visit, the customer learns more and more.

Their aspiration is that the community will be educated and as a result will feel more connected and empathetic, and think more openly and critically.

To keep it fresh, one wall at the Cafe has a TV screen that allows 1951 to tell more refugee stories in depth.  These will be developed more extensively over time.

Each person who has worked on this project at Montaag has been changed in some way.  Their lives are richer for it. They are proud of their continuing relationship with 1951 which will give them more opportunity to do good work in the community in the field of human rights.

Montaag started a design partnership with 1951 to design their space.  They are now part of the community who share the love of the 1951 mission and want to spread the word about the refugee journey.  The community wall in the coffee shop has a map of the Bay area and highlights the individuals and organizations who worked to create and support the Cafe as well as the refugees they serve.  There is a yellow line that winds throughout the Cafe highlighting all of the people who are impacted, who visit and who serve at the Cafe.

Founded in 2012 by Per Ivar Selvaag, Montaag has offices in Berkeley, California, Oslo and Stavenger, Norway.  Click to learn more about Montaag.

Refugees Supported, Refugees Cherished and Refugees Welcome!


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Refugees supported, refugees cherished and refugees welcome is the sign on 1951 Coffee Company, a coffee shop staffed exclusively by refugees in the San Francisco Bay area. The coffee shop takes its name from the 1951 Refugee Convention, the year the United Nations established its guidelines for the legal obligations of the protection of refugees. These guidelines inform 1951 Coffee’s mission.  

Founded by Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, 1951 Coffee supports refugee resettlement in the US in a very tangible way, to gain employment.  Rachel and Doug combined their work with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and their past experience as baristas and conceived of offering a barista training program to give refugees a specific skill that would give them customer service experience and yield more than minimum wage.  Without a US education, US job experience or references, refugees often struggle to find jobs while trying to learn the culture and language.

The coffee shop was designed by the Norwegian design team at Montaag as a mini museum to educate the community and advocate for refugees.  Graphics and information about the UN refugee convention line the walls along with the challenges depicting the refugee journey, their life in the US and ways for community involvement.  

Coincidentally, 1951 opened their doors at about the same time the travel ban was announced last January.  With lines around the corner, the community found the coffee shop as a way to bring people together and respond.  At the shop, the baristas have easy access to their customers that lends itself to informal chats across the bar. Connecting the community to the refugees is an important opportunity to help the community understand the refugee plight to start their life all over again and to help the refugees integrate into their new surroundings.  Rachel says the customers and staff are all on the same level, have amazing conversations, and make connections with respect and dignity.

The barista training program has graduated 50 people and 1951 currently employs 9 of them from 7 different countries: Syria, Eritrea, Uganda, Afghanistan, Iran, Bhutan, and Myanmar. 1951 Coffee brings employment partners and resettlement agencies to their graduates, providing an important next-step in their integration into American society.

Rachel originally thought people would come for a good cup of coffee and then learn about their mission but in fact she discovered people come to learn about their mission and then have an amazing cup of coffee.  The result is that their reviews show their customers keep coming back for the great coffee and service and these new baristas are empowered and hopeful as they are welcomed and supported by their new community.  

Rachel said their dream is to expand to San Diego, Seattle and DC.  For more information, go to their web site, 1951coffee.com.  


Together they solve human problems with technology


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Karina Garbesi, Ph.D., is the Director of the Environmental Studies Program at California State University East Bay, a founding member of the Board of Directors and Vice President of We Care Solar.   Hal Aronson, the Founder of We Share Solar, works with Karina to connect the fields of energy and society to create socially just outcomes. Together they solve human problems with technology.

Hal and Karina brought the solar suitcase kit to the university to integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts into different social branches of society.  As students build, they learn about global energy poverty, basic electricity, solar energy, and engineering.  Karina believes these technology choices have a huge effect on social outcomes.

California State University is one of the largest and most diverse public state university systems in the US with 23 campuses.  Their institutional focus is on sustainability, social justice and multiculturalism.  Karina says they are perfectly positioned to make a difference in the lives of their students who represent an internationally diverse group of minorities, including those from low and modest income families.  The solar suitcase project is a hands-on experience that enables their students an entree into the solar industry with a voice and choice of a broad range of technology jobs.

The additional benefit of We Share Solar is the interface between these diverse populations of college students and the ethnic and diverse neighborhoods that surround the university.  The college students are helping to teach and serve as mentors to the local middle and high school students to build the solar suitcases in the classroom or in after school programs. They are so motivated to do this work that they have created clubs to continue the project even after the school program is over.  

These students are building solar suitcases to bring solar technology to developing countries, refugee centers and to low income urban and agricultural communities in California, lowering the cost of their electric bills.  It is a model of education creating a multi cultural and multi disciplinary experience inspiring the principals, teachers and students.  

We Share Solar is compelling because it connects energy and society and supports the socially just outcomes Karina was seeking.  The students who come from areas with a 80% poverty rate have a pathway to a college education, it galvanizes girls to engage in science and technology and provides a gateway to one of the fastest growing industries and it is creating a profound multi cultural, multi educational community who are making a global impact.  Karina said personally she never had this kind of impact on students before in her decades of teaching.  

The Chancellor’s Office has given them tremendous support and now after their second year, they plan on sharing this project with the other campuses in the University system.  We Share Solar is funded by corporations like PG&E and partner with organizations like Grid Alternatives who value community engagement.  These global partners share stories and photos from the recipients with the student builders so that they can see the results of their work.  

Karina thanked me for spreading optimism saying, “It is the moral imperative of our time.”  The optimism of We Share Solar is that it empowers students from middle school to college, to be global citizens and change-makers.  To learn more about We Share Solar, go to their web site, We Share Solar.  To sign the Pictition to support We Care Solar campaign to ‘Light Every Birth” go to: Light Every Birth.

‘You planted a seed, and from this seed a great tree will grow.’


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Laura Stachel is a OB/GYN who had a bustling 14 year old medical practice in Berkeley, California serving thousands of patients and delivering healthy babies where there were few complications.

In 2002, Laura suffered from persistent back and arm pain that resulted in a diagnosis of severe degenerating disc disease in her cervical spine.  She was told she would have to stop doing surgeries and eventually had to leave her practice.  Her life of being a physician and bringing babies into the world came to an end.

After a year of rehabilitation, Laura considered a new vocation.  Having a disability gave her, “an opportunity to imagine new possibilities” and she turned her attention towards public health.  Laura enrolled in a Maternal Child Health program at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.  Sitting for hours in a classroom wasn’t easy but Laura said, having a purpose helped her to heal.  She loved being a student again.

Laura’s physical endurance improved and in 2008 she had an opportunity to consult on a global maternal health research project.  At that time, half a million women died each year in childbirth, 99% in developing countries.  11% of global maternal deaths were in Northern Nigeria. As part of a research project on maternal mortality, Laura was invited to observe Nigerian obstetric care through a joint research program through UC Berkeley and Ahmadu Bello University.  Laura went to Kofan Gayan Hospital, a busy state hospital, serving 1.5 million people and conducting 150 deliveries a month.

Although Laura observed many differences between Kofan Gayan and a typical American hospital, what was most striking were the frequent power outages that left the hospital in the dark.  Without electricity for up to 12 hours a day, midwives were forced to work by candlelight or kerosene lanterns, surgeons worked without overhead lighting or electricity and many women were turned away at night when the power was down.  When the power was out, so was the hospital.  This contributed to many preventable maternal and newborn deaths.

Laura vowed to do something about it.  She sent e-mails to her husband, Hal Aronson, describing the inadequate lighting conditions at the hospital.  Hal taught solar energy technology in California and immediately focused on solar power as a way to provide electricity to the hospital. When Laura returned home to Berkeley, Hal sketched a design for a solar power system to meet the needs of the maternity ward, labor room, operating room and laboratory.

The project was beginning to take shape but they were in need of funding.  Just eleven days after she returned from Nigeria, Laura and Hal entered a campus wide contest at UC Berkeley for a technology offering a social good.  They received honorable mention and a $1,000 award.  When she called Dr. Muazu, the head of the hospital in Nigeria to say she did not win the contest and have the needed funds, he was unfazed. He said, “You planted a seed, and from this seed, a great tree will grow.”

The funds came soon after.

Hal built a miniature solar system in a suitcase so Laura could demonstrate solar electricity to her colleagues on her first of many return trips to Nigeria. This demonstration kit was met with enthusiasm giving the green light to a larger solar installation. With solar electricity for the operating room, laboratory and maternity ward, the hospital was instantly transformed.  They could deliver babies day and night, perform critical surgeries around the clock and provide transfusions using refrigerated blood.  Over the next year, maternal deaths dropped by 70%.  Lives were being saved.

After the success at the hospital, surrounding health clinics asked Laura for solar power.  Laura needed something that could scale.  Hal and Laura realized the suitcase-sized demonstration kit could be the perfect solution. They began crafting “Solar Suitcase” by hand, engaging volunteers, and building these in their back yard.

When NY Times writer, Nicholas Kristof wrote about We Care Solar, requests for suitcases came from around the globe.  We Care Solar received a significant grant from the MacArthur Foundation to create a Solar Suitcase that could be manufactured at scale. And soon, Solar Suitcases were being supplied to countries around the world.

Despite its success, Laura told me she had no idea where this was going when she went to Nigeria the first time.  She had no master plan.  She made decisions, one step at a time to address whatever challenge was before her.  Laura even said, that if she knew where her new journey was taking her, it would have been intimidating.  She certainly never thought when she was lying on her back unable to sit or stand, she would be running a international non profit,  speak at the UN and global conferences and receive countless awards for her life-saving work.

With dozens of partners around the world, We Care Solar has equipped 2,500 health centers, has trained over 5,000 health workers, serving more than 1,000,000 mothers and their newborns. We Care Solar has introduced the solar suitcase to 27 countries, with active large programs in 10 countries.

On March 9th 2017, We Care Solar announced that Liberia has become the first country to pledge to “Light Every Birth” at the launch of its global campaign to support healthy childbirth with affordable, accessible and clean solar lighting and electricity. Please sign the Pictition, Light Every Birth , to show your support. For more information about We Care Solar, go to their web site, http://www.wecaresolar.org.