Dr. Laura Stachel was stunned on a trip to Nigeria in 2008 when she watched doctors performing an emergency cesarean section: “The lights went out, and I said, ‘How are they going to finish?’… You didn’t even see people reacting because it was something they were so used to.” During that two-week trip, Stachel observed midwives using all kinds of makeshift lighting while delivering babies, including lanterns, candles, and cell phones and she came to realize that “my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless [without] something as basic as light and electricity.”
Inspired to find an alternative, she worked with her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator, to design a “solar suitcase” to help doctors and midwives have adequate electricity and light to save moms and babies during childbirth. They created a small kit that included several solar panels, lights, and a pair of walkie-talkies. She intended the kit to be for demonstration, solely for use seeking funding and to show Nigerian doctors what she was hoping to achieve; instead, the doctors said, “This is incredible. You have to leave this with us…. This could help us save lives right now.”
Over the past several years, they have further refined the kit and it now includes solar panels and high-quality LED lights, headlamps, a cell phone charging unit, and a fetal Doppler kit for monitoring heart rate, all sturdy enough to withstand heavy use: “We got to something that was really rugged, simple to use, portable and that we knew would really work in harsh environments.” Since founding the Berkeley, California-based non-profit organization, WE CARE Solar, Stachel and her team have constructed and distributed 1,300 solar suitcases and brought light and power to health facilities in 27 countries.
The needs in a country like Nigeria are high where one in 13 women die due to pregnancy and the neonatal mortality rate is also one of the worst in the world. Moreover, according to the World Health Organization, the problems are just as severe in much of the world — complications in pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of the death among adolescent girls in many developing countries. Globally, there are over 300,000 maternal deaths every year, 99 percent of which occur in poor countries, and for every death, at least 20 women suffer severe complications from childbirth.
For her part, Stachel is determined to transform maternal health care around the world. “I really want a world where women can deliver safely and with dignity, and women don’t have to fear an event that we consider a joy in this country,” she stated. “Communities are celebrating the fact that they have light. And that they now have one more component to help with safe motherhood. It’s amazing.”
You can help support Dr. Stachel’s important work by making a donation to WE CARE Solar (which are doubled during December) — or, if you’re looking for a great group fundraising project for a school, community, or religious group, you can sponsor a Solar Suitcase for a health clinic for $1,645. To learn more about her work and how you can help, visit We CARE Solar’s website at http://wecaresolar.org/
If you’d like to introduce your kids to the power of solar energy, we recommend these two excellent science kits: Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Kit for ages 8 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/
To encourage your Mighty Girl’s interest in engineering so she can help change the world, check out our blog post, “Building Her Dreams: Building and Engineering Toys for Mighty Girls” at http://www.amightygirl.com/
For an excellent book about female inventors throughout history, check out “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women” for readers 8 to 13 at http://www.amightygirl.com/
And, to inspire your children with stories of more trailblazing women in science, including medicine and engineering, visit our “Science & Technology” book section at http://amgrl.co/1Mw9BGB
Credit: A Mighty Girl Blog