Lake Taal & Tacloban project, Philippines

In October 2015, three friends from Hong Kong set off on a week-long trip to the Philippines to deliver three sets of All Solar Lights Kit to families that were living off the grid. We started by travelling 4 hours south of Manila to the magnificent Taal Lake, an active volcano with steep walls of jungle and a crater filled with a vast expanse of water that gives its namesake.

Steven and Winifred are in the process of building a house and coffee plantation on the rugged shores of Taal, albeit a few hundred metres up the near vertical slope. Their neighbours act as the guardians of the farm when they are not there. Living in very a simple house made of bamboo and a bit of concrete, the family live mostly off the livestock they keep and the crops that grow nearby. Light is provided by the sun alone. We set up the ASL system within their humble abode in less than half an hour, placing the solar panels on the corrugated iron roof. As the sun set that day, they had light. We forget how much we take for granted in our lives every day and to see the joy that light brought this family brought a tear to the eye.

Next up was a flight to Tacloban, one year almost to the day from when the most devastating typhoon in living memory flattened the city, killed over 50,000 people and left many more with absolutely nothing to their name. I was expecting the city to still be reeling from the disaster but it was amazing to see it very much back on its feet – commerce was booming, houses had been rebuilt, lives were seemingly back to normal. Despite the physical progress, helped by millions of dollars of international aid, the scars of tragedy clearly remained on the soul of the people, each person we met having known someone lost in the storm.

Steven and Win had raised funds and donated their own money three months after the disaster to help rebuild a school not far outside the city. This is where we headed back to. It’s important for outside development projects to have a connection with the local community they are trying to help and the headmistress of the school was very forthcoming to help us identify two families that could benefit from solar lighting. The list was over 30 families and unfortunately, we only had two kits and the headmistress decided the fairest way to decide who would get it would be the oldest way – to draw straws.

The first family lived in a brick and concrete structure with a corrugated iron roof. The lights would allow the family to eat an evening meal together under electric light rather than candle light. Less romantic perhaps but these communities are more concerned with practicality! The second house was another bamboo structure on multiple levels to divide the bedrooms and cooking area. The set-up is so simple and with the maintenance being virtually non-existent the ASL equipment is built for these kinds of houses. Light is one of the basic human needs and although no one NEEDS to have light at night, the opportunities it brings both for study, work or simply the social interaction it allows cannot be underestimated.

Oli Goulden
Oli is currently the Head of Marketing at Grana in Hong Kong. Before that he ran a consultancy called The Mobius Effect that helped brands grow by doing good.