In 2009, Nancy Economou visited the Philippines, where she witnessed a young girl with her face burned by kerosene. She later learned that an overwhelming number of families do not have access to a safe and sustainable light source. Kerosene lamps serve as the only source of light after the sun goes down, making work, studying, and caring for children a challenging and often dangerous task. Furthermore, families worldwide spend up to a third of their income on toxic lighting sources, such as kerosene, paraffin, or batteries, which often get thrown into landfills, leeching toxic materials into local water sources. In 2013, she returned to the Philippines with innovative solar lighting units that could be carried with the users. Seeing that there was increased safety and health by removing kerosene from homes, and the financial freedom that comes with saving the money that would have been spent on lighting, Watts of Love was founded.
Watts of Love empowers those that we serve by helping them set goals and achieve their dreams while illuminating their paths with guiding light. Since 2013, we have distributed nearly 90,000 lights in 53 countries. In 2019, Watts of Love launched the Lighthouse model, our solution to scaling. Watts of Love intentionally seeks the most vulnerable people in the developing world, who live without access to sustainable light. We partner with in-country organizations and invest in local leaders to represent Watts of Love. Using a unique financial literacy curriculum, Watts of Love gently and compassionately instructs these recipients on how to save, invest and build for the future. We train entire communities on how to properly use the solar light and provide education on basic financial concepts such as compound savings and return on investment. We emphasize the significance of redirecting funds previously used to purchase kerosene or other dangerous light sources and investing their savings in livestock. We want our light recipients to be successful where they are, aiming for communities to create self-sufficiency and look to their community members for inspiration.
And it’s working. Across the world, families are irrevocably changing. We are hearing stories of children who would have been sold into child marriage excelling to the top of their class, stories of single mothers starting their own businesses and the elder continuing to care for their families. In Malawi, Stella’s daughter received a light in September 2021. She brought the light and her new financial literacy home to teach Stella that they already had the money – their former battery money. Her daughter explained that if they saved their money, they could use it to buy things that will only increase their income, such as livestock. Stella realized, however, that she wants her money to work for her. So, she started a rum distillery in her yard, and now, she has employees. Her life, and the lives of her children, have forever been changed through financial literacy.
Watts of Love has lights in 53 countries around the world, but focus countries are Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and the Philippines.
Find out more at www.wattsoflove.org
Watts of Love was introduced to Fulbright through a panel on human trafficking in early May.
By Kylee Hernandez