In the company of 80-something veterans, two teenagers were feted at the anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution for lighting up lives in the poorest villages through a solar lamp project, which, according to them, embodies the spirit of people power.
High school senior Mark Benjamin Lozano, 17, and college freshman Catherine Felicia Marie Peralta, 18, were recognized by President Benigno Aquino 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, along with a modest army of young volunteers here and abroad, brought 250 solar-powered lanterns to remote and off-grid communities in Virac, Catanduanes, to keep them from using unsafe kerosene lamps.
For Lozano and Peralta, who shared the stage with People Power Revolution stalwarts such as former President Fidel V. Ramos, 83, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, 88, Marcos-era defense minister, youth should be no impediment to achieving People Power-like ideals.
“We weren’t even born then, but I think it’s [the spirit of People Power) in us,” said Peralta, a business administration and accountancy student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
“Our parents were there in Edsa. They told us the stories. And some way or other, 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 the People Power Revolution 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 Aquino that honored 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 in the Global Youth Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.
With a group of friends, Lozano and Peralta brainstormed for ideas on an environmental project that would benefit the poor, and came across One Million Lights, an international non-profit organization based in Palo Alto, California.
After a series of hurdles, from fund-raising hardships 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 lifespan, are energized by sunlight and can store reserve energy, and thus can be used even at night.
According to the One Million Lights Web site, 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 kilograms of carbon each year. Consequently, the worldwide combustion of fuel for lighting results in 190 million tonnes per year of carbon emissions,” it added.
One Million Lights also said “kerosene is responsible for 1.5 million deaths from burns and respiratory illnesses annually, 62 percent of which are 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 titled “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.
According to the article, One Million Lights is headed for six more provinces – Mindoro, Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province, Eastern Samar and Rizal – to distribute 2,750 lights to isolated and impoverished rural communities.
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