For lighting up lives in the country’s poorest villages through a solar lamp project, cited as embodying the spirit of people power, two teenagers were honored on Saturday during the 26th commemoration of the 1986 Edsa Revolution.
High school senior Mark Benjamin Lozano, 17, and college freshman Catherine Felicia Marie Peralta, 18, were recognized by President Benigno Aquino III and the Edsa People Power Commission for their efforts in jump-starting the Philippine version of the One Million Lights movement.
Through One Million Lights, the pair, aided by a modest army of young volunteers here and abroad, brought 250 solar-powered lanterns to remote and off-the-grid communities in Virac, Catanduanes, to keep residents there from using unsafe kerosene lamps.
For Lozano and Peralta, who shared the stage with key Edsa figures—former President Fidel V. Ramos, 83, and former Defense Minister and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, 88—youth should be no impediment toward achieving Edsa-like ideals.
“We weren’t even born then, but I think it’s [the spirit of Edsa] in us,” said Peralta, a business administration and accountancy student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
“Our parents were in Edsa. They told us the stories. And some way or another, I think Edsa transcends people. It transcends time. And until now we keep the spirit because we enjoy the freedom they so carefully got for us,” she said.
Lozano, a student at Southridge School, said he believed Edsa to be an all-encompassing ideal.
“I think the spirit of Edsa is something very universal, something adopted by other countries as well. And likewise, because it’s such a universal value of empowerment, it’s something anyone can live today, as long as they live,” he said.
The two received a plaque from Mr. Aquino that cited them for “choosing to light up the lives of the less fortunate rather than being insensitive to the darkness that surrounds them.”
One Million Lights-Philippines sprang from a moment of inspiration following Lozano’s participation at the Global Youth Leaders Conference in Washington, DC.
With a group of friends, Lozano and Peralta brainstormed for ideas on an environmental project that would benefit the poor, and came across the One Million Lights, an international nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California.
Series of hurdles
After a series of hurdles, ranging from fund-raising problems to customs mishaps, the movement finally took shape when the group managed to deliver the 250 solar lamps to residents of Barangay Dugui Too.
The bulbs of the solar lamps, which have a seven-year life span, are energized by sunlight and can store reserve energy, and thus can be used even at night.
According to the One Million Lights website, more than 1.6 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity and depend on kerosene for lighting.
“Families may spend up to half of their income on kerosene, even though it provides inadequate illumination,” it said.
“Used four hours a day, a kerosene lamp emits over 100 kilogram of carbon each year. Consequently, the worldwide combustion of fuel for lighting results in 190 million tons per year of carbon emissions,” it said.
One Million Lights also said kerosene is responsible for 1.5 million deaths from burns and respiratory illnesses annually, 62 percent of which [involve] children.”
“By switching to solar-powered lights, the recipients freed themselves from the shackles of kerosene lamps and welcomed a new beginning into their lives,” Lozano and Peralta said in an article they wrote for their community newsletter, “One Million Lights: Lighting Up Lives.”
“The 30 percent of their daily income spent on kerosene became their children’s tuition fees. Work hours farming abaca deep in the forest became longer, since night time is no longer an obstacle for them, allowing them to earn more money. Little by little, they are alleviating themselves from poverty,” they said.
One Million Lights is headed for Mindoro, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province, Eastern Samar and Rizal—to distribute 2,750 lights to isolated and impoverished rural communities.
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