Palo Alto woman sharing light worldwide

January 20, 2009 11:12:15 AM PST
We take light as a given, something that comes with the flip of a switch. But, in many countries lack of electricity means everything stops when the sun goes down, including children's education.

One immigrant turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur is working to change that.

"It changes their life completely," says Anna Sidana.

Sidana is talking about light, something she discovered was in short supply when the Palo Alto resident visited the Indian village where she grew up. What Anna saw broke her heart. Children were studying at night using lamps powered by kerosene which they had to work hours to pay for.

"It is a pollutant to start with. On top of that you can have severe burns. The light itself is very dim and you strain your eyes," Sidana explains.

When the PayPal executive and single mother returned she set out to find a solution. It came in the form of an affordable, non-polluting light invented by some Stanford students she was mentoring.

The sun charges it by day and it gives off eight hours of light fifty times brighter than a kerosene lamp.

"Well, my initial goal is to distribute one million lights, solar rechargeable lights, to rural communities all over the world," Sidana says.

And, that is how Anna started her foundation One Million Lights.

Her young foundation got a jumpstart with a huge donation from eBay which owns PayPal. eBay donated 15000 of the "Mighty Lights." Half went to a village in Kenya and the other half Anna personally delivered to the Indian village of Rajasthan.

eBay says it has always promoted the philosophy of giving globally. This past holiday season saw a new twist on that philosophy. It sent a letter to each employee telling them this light donation was being made in their name.

eBay CEO John Donohoe says employees loved the idea of giving instead of getting, a holiday gift. He says empowering people to study or work not only benefits those individuals but also global companies like eBay.

"I think it will also help some start businesses. And, I hope to see some future eBay sellers come out of the entrepreneurs that receive these lights," he says.

Or, even eBay engineers.

Perhaps 14-year old Kombo Ali, a Kenyan orphan who is raising his younger brother and sister while trying to stay first in his class. He and other grateful students have sent stacks of thank-you letters to Anna.

"Now, I don't have to worry about light for my studies," he says. "I think this is definitely going to help me get better scores."

Initially, Anna had hoped to bring light to this one village. But, having seen how the students' lives have changed she is now hoping others will join her in spreading One Million Lights.

"I realized that how could I stop here? There's so much need and there is so many children out there. And, that's really what gave me the impetus to make it one million lights," Anna says.

To reach her goal of one million lights Anna will need a lot of help.

Click here to learn more about the One Million Lights campaign.