Today I did something good that I'm proud of. One of the big problems for the shack-dwelling people of this country is a lack of natural light. Shacks don’t tend to come with glazed windows and their only source of light is from having the door permanently open during the day. With the door closed the shack falls into total darkness apart from the tiny slivers of worthless silver that run down the cracks in the broken boarded walls. This means that during the day it is impossible for people to function in a way that would be considered normal by any first world standards. Many of the shacks have electricity but it is not rich people that live in these simple abodes. Many of these people are living in extreme poverty, where providing food for themselves is often a priority they cannot meet. Having an electric light on during daylight hours might be considered an extravagant and wasteful luxury. One of our Urban Farmers, Lovemore, lives in such a property. Two rooms; a 2.5m x 3m kitchen, with a 3m x 3.5m bedroom at the rear. There is only one access into the shack via a door in the kitchen and there are no windows throughout. He shares this tiny place with his wife and two young children. Lovemore’s lovely wife keeps the rooms clean and tidy but it is jammed pack with all their heavily worn and frayed possession, which are folded, stuff and stacked in any and every square inch of the space that is available. The old lino covering the kitchen floor is ripped and torn but is swept and clean. The walls are covered with cardboard as, I’m sure, a form of insulation, with tatty fabric throws draped over them to try to hide the ugly appearance but only really, sadly, adding to it. Wires are strewn all over the place dangling from nails and screws randomly sticking out of rough wooden joists that don’t look capable of supporting the galvanised, corrugated steel ceiling above. What absolutely amazes me about Lovemore’s crappy little shack is that in some way it could be considered prime real estate, as per square foot he is charged more money in rent than I am charged for my modest 3-bed room property in a seaside village some miles away… where as it happens, the property rental, for South Africa, might be considered slightly more expensive. Lovemore's family met us as we arrived with a cheer that did add some radiance to the gloom, and despite the clear poverty that surrounded me I did feel a comforting feeling of home. I’m sure in such a place this can only be felt when love fills the space surrounding you. I had come to fit some solar lights into Lovemore's ceilings; an innovation I had seen some years before, online, in the slums of India. I figured if it worked there, it would work here. I had the time and I had the tools. Lovemore has done so much work for me in the past, I thought it was time I repaid him a little and this seemed the least I could do. The solar lights are very simple. A plastic bottle is filled with water and a little bleach, to keep the water from turning green. A suitable hole is then cut into the ceiling for the bottle to fit snuggly through. I also cut a hole in a flat piece of plastic (taken from a plastic bottle that had been cut up and folded flat), then put the water filled bottle through it and secured it tightly with wire. This was put in place to stop the bottle falling all the way through the hole in the ceiling when fitted into place. The juncture between the ceiling and the water filled bottle was sealed with a plastic sealant to make it water tight. When complete the transformation in the room was quite remarkable. Light from the sun was able to diffract through the water in the bottle and give light into the once permanently darkened room. During daylight hours the solar light gives the same light as perhaps a 50-watt lamp. I’m not sure what was more radiant, the smile from Lovemore or the glow from the bottle above our heads. This light, such simple but ingenious design, would make so much difference to this man’s life and the lives of his family. His gratitude to me made me feel very humble. I had not realised that this, such a small thing really would end up being perhaps, one of the proudest moments of my life... up there with the birth of my children. It was the first time in my life perhaps that I had made a meaningful difference.
I have helped many people in my life before but all these people could have sorted themselves out eventually, I was merely assisting. This was something different… through passing on this knowledge to Lovemore I know I have also passed it on to his community. There will be a whole load of sunshine spreading through the homes of this community and hopefully beyond. In fact, as I was leaving Lovemore’s home, he was already preparing to bring his friends around to see his all new illuminated bedroom. This glowing message will happily, definitely spread! With Love and Solar light Pete ps. Though these solar lights are good for the townships they also have a great use for the Urban Farmer. There is many a garden shed that has an expensive electrical cable fed to it for the sole purpose of providing a little light for the gardener, so he can find his hoe hidden behind the cloches' A couple of recycled plastic bottle, solar lights would make that electric supply redundant. Garages, lean-to's and perhaps even your loft space could also be freely illuminated during daylight hours!