All around Australia Origin volunteers and school children are coming together to make solar-powered lights for PNG communities living in energy poverty.

The portable solar-powered lights help children living along the Kokoda Track to study when the sun goes down. In turn, Australian students learn about the potential humanitarian impact of careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Our Foundation has partnered with SolarBuddy, an Australian charity who works to improve the educational opportunities of children throughout the South Pacific, South East Asia and Africa, by distributing portable solar lights.

Designed especially for children, the solar lights are easy to operate, carry and charge. Without them, the communities rely on dangerous and unsustainable sources of fuel like kerosene, diesel, wood or candles.

1.4 billion people globally don’t have access to modern electricity

According to the United Nations, ‘energy poverty condemns billions in the developing world to darkness, ill health, unfulfilled futures and repeated cycles of poverty.”

2 million children each year die from respiratory diseases caused by kerosene fumes used for lighting. The economic and environmental impacts can be catastrophic, too. Families already living below the poverty line can spend up to 40% of their income on kerosene. Emissions generated from kerosene lanterns produce more than 190 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of emissions from 38 million cars.

In developing countries, when the sun sets, so does the opportunity for the next generation to learn and build the skills needed to break the cycle of poverty.

The solar lights built by our volunteers and students are distributed to children in neighbouring PNG.

Despite many years of strong economic growth, our closest neighbour continues to face many challenges. Weak governance, lack of infrastructure and gender inequality threaten PNG’s future prosperity. Its population is overwhelmingly poor and 80 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in traditional rural communities. Only seven per cent has access to the electricity grid and a piped water network.

Demographically, PNG is a young country; 76 per cent are under 35 years old and 40 per cent are under the age of 15. Here lies the opportunity to help its young people use education as a means of lifting their communities out of generations of poverty. SolarBuddy’s latest evaluation shows that students are studying up to 78% longer with a solar light.

Aussie schools lighting the way

As at April 2019, more than 200 Origin volunteers have helped almost 2,000 Australian students to become part of the solution. Together they’ve assembled over 1,000 solar-powered lights in 30 schools from Wagga Wagga to Hobart.

Narangba Valley State School in Brisbane was the first to participate in our program, in 2018. Principal Mrs Lorna Cogle said, “We are proud to be involved in a program which not only helps to teach students about science and engineering, but was also designed to help those in need.”

Year 6 student Heather agreed, sharing that she “felt so special that I’m in this class and able to help people overseas in Papua New Guinea who aren’t as privileged as us”.

Australian children tell us they feel good about doing something positive for those less fortunate, and their teachers are making the connection to the Australian Curriculum (developing capabilities in critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding).

Our Head of Foundation Sean Barrett said the humanitarian impact of STEM can’t be underestimated.

“Not only are we providing significant opportunities for these students in PNG, but the students in Australian schools are learning valuable lessons about energy poverty, renewable energy, engineering and the power of education to change lives for the better,” he said. “We applaud the schools, teachers and the students involved for showing such humanitarian empathy and supporting those in need,” Sean added.

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