Some of you may know the beginning of this story. But very few know the end.
One of the major turning points in my life that led me down the path of starting d.light was my time in the Peace Corps in Benin. At the time, I lived in a village without electricity and, just like my neighbors, had to rely on a kerosene lantern for light.
My neighbor in the village of Guinagourou was the principal of one of the two local primary schools. He lived with his wife and six children.
One day, when I returned from a trip to the city of Parakou, I learned that their twelve year-old son had been burned over most of his body in a kerosene fire. For months, he lay in agony under a covering of local herbs and pastes, unable to move around. Because the father had a salary, he was able to pay for adequate medical care for his son. Eventually, after I had already left Benin, the son became well enough to return to school.
He is actually one of the lucky ones. Even though his life will never be the same, he survived. Other children who are burned this badly by kerosene fires often die of infection because their families cannot afford to take them to the hospital.
This experience horrified and angered me: Kerosene could not be the final word in affordable lighting for families like this. In the twenty-first century, no one should have to rely on such a dangerous, dim and expensive lighting source. There had to be a better solution.
As I finished business school and started d.light, I was still able to receive updates on the family through the Peace Corps volunteers who went to serve in Benin in the following years. I know he continued studying, and I am waiting to hear if he passed through high school.
After we launched our first product line in 2008, the father of a Peace Corps volunteer purchased a d.light lantern at a conference in the US. He gifted it to his daughter, who was living in the Atacora Region of Benin, about a ten-hour drive from my village on one of the only two well-paved roads in the north. She used the light during her two-year stint as a volunteer. When she left Benin, she told me that she gave the light to the volunteer who had replaced me in Guinagourou, in hopes of getting it to my former neighbors.
Several months later, I received a phone call at about 2am, New Delhi time. I heard a male voice speaking French over the static-filled line. It took me a few moments to realize what the voice was saying–and who it was. I hadn’t heard that voice in over five years.
It was the same boy who had been burned by the kerosene fire, calling all the way from Guinagourou, Benin, to tell me that he had received the d.light lantern through the Peace Corps volunteer network. He had gotten my phone number and wanted to call personally to thank me for the light.
It was one of the most amazing phone calls I’ve ever received. Through no action of my own, somehow one of our d.light lanterns had made it back to Guinagourou! Life was coming full circle. It was a great reminder of why the work of d.light is so important.
The story of d.light is still ongoing, but so is the story of this family. I’m just thankful that I could be a small part of it.