White House Honors United Methodist Lighting for Literacy Ministry

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Founders of Lighting for Literacy, a United Methodist ministry that provides low-cost solar power to communities without electricity, are being recognized during today's Champions of Change festivities at The White House.

Doug McNeil helps youth from Los Gatos United Methodist Church assemble solar-powered kits that provide light for families without electricity

"Twenty percent of the world's population lives without any lights past the time of sunset. So when the sun goes down, the opportunity is lost for them to learn to read and to write."

Doug McNeil and Jesse Salem--both members of Los Gatos United Methodist Church in California's Silicon Valley--are being honored at the White House for founding Lighting for Literacy. The program, a partnership between Los Gatos United Methodist Church and Los Gatos Morning Rotary, provides low-cost solar power to communities without electricity.

“Twenty percent of the world’s population lives without any lights past the time of sunset,” said Lighting for Literacy co-founder Doug McNeil. “So when the sun goes down, the opportunity is lost for them to learn to read and to write.”

Lighting for Literacy was founded last year around Earth Day when McNeil was looking for a Rotary project to teach youth science, sustainability and “service above self.” Salem, who had joined Los Gatos United Methodist Church's Volunteers in Mission in building homes in Colonet, Mexico for the past ten years, had a problem that needed a scientific solution.

Salem heard of homes in the Colonet area that had been destroyed by fires ignited by kerosene lamps. One of the families whose home church members had built told Salem that their three daughters did their homework each night by candlelight.

McNeil and Salem, both engineers, met through a mutual friend at church and began work figuring out how to brighten lives relatively inexpensively and safely. The two decided they needed light-emitting diodes (LED), powered by the sun, and Salem came up with the design for a solar kit.

Lighting for Literacy solar kits include a 12-volt battery, a solar panel, a charge-control circuit and an LED strip. The kits can light a room to the equivalent of a 60-watt compact fluorescent light bulb and provide six hours of light per night for up to three days in cloudy weather.

Students from the church and a local school assemble the kits that volunteers have installed in homes in Colonet, Mexico and in an orphanage in Bangalore, India.

“It’s about helping other people," said McNeil. “It’s not just helping your neighbor but (also) people in other parts of the world that I will likely never meet. I think that’s doing God’s work.”

Additional churches, Rotary clubs and schools have expressed interest in getting involved with Lighting for Literacy.

For more information, go to http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=13059787.

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Larry Hygh
The United Methodist Church
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