When Roger and Jean Mugridge from Cricklade decided they could change the lives of children in Africa, they never imagined their efforts would make a difference to thousands of youngsters across the world through their solar power charity Lights for Learning.
Recently they made a presentation in London about their simple lighting system to all the ambassadors of countries in the African Union. They’re currently in discussion with the government of Uganda and, in a significant breakthrough, they were visited by the ambassador of Zimbabwe and have agreed to equip four schools and a youth centre in his country.
Roger and Jean and a team of volunteers who have joined them since 2004 have installed lighting units for schools in Kenya, Zambia, the Phillipines and the Dominican Republic, and hope to go to Nepal later in the year.
Demand for the lighting system is now so great that the charity has teamed up with Swindon Probation Service to set up an offenders community payback production facility.
Roger said, “people on probation will be vetted as suitable and they will make the units and test them. They will make the components, cut the wires, solder them and assemble the kits before they can be shipped out to where they will be used. I’m currently training an instructor: we are excited about this new project.”
Offenders will gain an NVQ Level 2 qualification from the assembly experience.
Diana Fulbrook, chief executive of Wiltshire Probation Trust, said, "this is a ground-breaking initiative in so many ways. Not only is this a chance for offenders to take part in a worthwhile venture that is making a significant difference to the needy, but it also delivers important training opportunities that can help reduce reoffending."
Lights for Learning was created eight years ago after Roger and Jean visited the home of a Kenyan hotel worker. The couple had several holidays there but had not truly appreciated the conditions in which many families live.
“We visited the home of one of the lads that we had come to know at our hotel and saw that one of the babies had been scalded,” he said. “During the hours of darkness, light is often provided by dangerous, home-made kerosene lamps. We learned to our horror that burns are very common.”
As a one-time former Formula 1 racing engineer, Roger believed there was a solution and designed a lighting unit using a small solar panel, a rechargeable battery and two LED lights. On a subsequent visit to Kenya, the design proved to be helpful in the home and he realised the potential of larger installations in schools.
“Schools in Kenya, and many African countries, run on a shift pattern from 5am to 10pm and during the hours of darkness, lighting is poor and dangerous,” Roger explained. “Our lights extend the day for young people to study. The reports of how they have helped are very gratifying and education ministers are very enthusiastic.”
The partnership with Swindon Probation Service was formally launched on 20 May; the extra help cannot come too soon according to Roger. “The word is spreading and we’re getting new enquiries all the time. We do a lot of fundraising but we need a great deal more money to respond to demand.”
It costs £1,000 to provide units for three classrooms and an office. For details or to make a donation, call 750844 or mail: firstname.lastname@example.org