When a multi-agency Lights for Learning team travel to The Gambia in April to install solar powered electric lighting units into schools, hospitals and shelters, their cargo will be packaged using recycled bras, which will then be distributed amongst the local women.
Being able to afford underwear can be a choice between support or children going hungry says Lights for Learning sales manager Jo Heaven. “When I visited South Africa I learned from women that wearing a bra was a mark of status, but in The Gambia women have to decide between a bag of rice or wearing something comfortable. The solar lighting panels can be taken out as passenger luggage in suitcases and we pad them out with bras which the women of the villages really appreciate – it’s recycling taken to another practical level.”
Since 2004 Cricklade based charity Lights for Learning has been installing solar lighting in schools and medical centres where there is no electricity supply in several African countries. The systems are robust, easy to install and a low cost solution which enable learning and medical care to take place after the sun has set.
Jo added: “Where lights are installed allowing children to study after dark there have been massive increases in school exam passes, teacher retention and adult literacy rates, and also a drop in night-time birth mortality rates at medical centres.”
The trip to the Gambia is set to be very busy, with teachers, IT consultants, handymen and midwives going to work in the remote schools and nurseries in the Bangsang, Daru, Ndkiri Kunda area, at Bangsang Hospital and Shelter Gambia.
“As well as installing solar lights, we’ll be renovating classrooms, teaching rugby and running first aid training with First Aid 4 Gambia,” said Jo. “We’ll also be taking educational materials, solar powered calculators, spectacles, sports and first aid equipment. All the costs of the trip and the projects are borne by the team with a lot of fundraising.”
So popular have the bra collections been that Jo found another way to raise much needed funds by linking with BCR Global Textiles who recycle bras. Jo explained: “As we have collected more bras than we need to pad out the solar panels, BCR is an excellent fund raising channel. They supply bra bins and also self-addressed bin liners which FedEx collect free of charge when full. For every kilo collected Lights for Learning receive £1 to help towards the cost of the solar installations.”
Bins have already been installed at Intel, Swindon College, Office Angels and a number of local businesses, schools, playgroups and churches. If you would like a bra bin for your organisation, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Below, Beauty queens back bra collections for solar power charity. Miss Thamesdown 1978 Donna Nicholson (nee Gordon), left, and her daughter the current Miss Wiltshire Jo Logan with Lights Jo Heaven and Amy Jones of Office Angels. Photos top and bottom: Richard Wintle. www.calyxpix.com