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Alice Min Soo Chun: Lighting the way to a brighter future


Imagine the power of the sun right in the palm of your hand. Imagine that power illuminating communities devastated by natural disasters or a refugee camp filled with children reeling from the horrors of war.


This is the power that Solight Design’s SolarPuff is giving.


Alice Min Soo Chun designed the world’s first self-inflatable, portable solar light with her son in mind, and that motherly instinct to protect her child who was born with asthma has helped spark hope to many children and mothers the world over.


When she learned that asthma is related to pollution and that 75 percent of the pollution in the air comes from buildings because of energy consumption, that prompted her to take a special interest on solar energy.


Moreover, after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, she realized that 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and they use kerosene to light their homes at night. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), two million children die each year from the toxic fumes of kerosene, and the impoverished communities that may live on just three dollars a day, spend up to 30 percent of their income on kerosene.


Creating the SolarPuff was an incredibly daunting challenge for Alice, “There is a long painful process of failures, over and over again with different iterations, but you should never call them failures... call it progress. Because every step you fail, you learn. And from that learning, you make things better, and you redo it, and you fix things and you redo it again.” She spent five years of field testing in Haiti where she had given handmade SolarPuffs to the women farmers there. One woman, who could not afford the glass to go around her kerosene lantern, told Alice that her kids are all doing their homework in one room filled with smoke and they are all coughing and their eyes burning. When Alice gave her the SolarPuff, the woman said it was a gift from God. That was when Alice decided to become a social entrepreneur and start Solight.


Alice explains that the tangibility of how many people benefit from having one light is immense.


By giving one light to a home, it impacts at least five to seven people living in there. 

Since inception, the SolarPuff — whose eco-friendly, lightweight, waterproof, and collapsible design inspired by the origami — has already impacted over one million lives worldwide. 


Creating safe spaces


As she travelled across the globe to deliver solar lights personally to communities that have been destroyed by natural disasters, Alice witnessed how having a source of light made a huge impact by creating safe spaces.


In the aftermath of disasters, there is a high risk of assault and kidnappings. It is thus critical that children and young girls have light when they are put into tent camps or human settlements. 


According to Alice, the distribution of solar lights in tent camps showed a 30 percent decrease in cases of assault on women and girls the very next day.


In Ukraine, she met a boy who lost his leg in a bombing in his village and was alone at the hospital during Christmas. When she gave him the SolarPuff, his eyes widened and he smiled for the first time, thinking of how he would use it for camping in the forest near his house with his two younger sisters. 

 

Alice adds that their color lights are also used for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapy.

 

Positive impact on the environment 


As the climate crisis continues to confront more lives and communities, Alice sees the use of solar light as a tool for encouraging collective action. 


She notes that one solar light used an hour a night can save 90 lbs., of carbon emissions per year. Multiply that by the US population and you will save 11 billion tons of carbon emissions.


“The power of collective change is what seems to be the only way we are healing our environment. Our philosophy is that small things matter. If we all participated in small ways to the pollution and ruin of our ecosystem, then we all have the power to heal the system by doing small things such as using a solar light.”


Solight now has different versions of their solar lamp including the new origami light called the MEGAPUFF and the QWNN. These bigger lamps can also charge mobile phones, which is now a crucial life line tool.


In moving forward to creating more sustainable products, Alice always bears in mind durability, value, longevity, as well as beauty.


“Our products may be a bit more expensive but they will last longer and will give hope, wonder and awe to communities living in the dark. We work hard to keep getting our costs down but that will require a significant scale of production. That requires us all to step forward and light the way to a brighter future,” says Alice.

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