NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Westchester County teenager has harnessed the power of the sun, and he is using it to give thousands of people around the world the gift of light.
When the sun goes down in Kenya, there is only darkness. Many people have no electricity and are forced to light their homes with kerosene lanterns. Conditions are smokey, dim, and dangerous.
The lamps create toxic smoke that have been known to cause lung cancer and pneumonia. It’s the equivalent of breathing in two packs of cigarettes a day.
For Ben Hirschfeld, the 19-year-old founder of Lit Solar Lantern Project, the crisis became a personal calling.
“Imagine your day ended at 6 o’clock every day. How much would you be able to get done?” Hirschfeld said. “I could really relate to that uphill struggle of getting an education while you’re sick. I knew I had to do something.”
Three years ago Hirschfeld began to distribute small solar lamps to students and families in need. So far, Hirschfeld’s cause has given out more than 10,000 lamps to people in five different countries.
The lanterns allow people to read and study after dark and eliminate the need for lamps that produce toxic kerosene smoke. The project has also helped to raise families out of poverty, as they no longer need to spend money on expensive kerosene.
Families are encouraged to give back to Lit by donating some of the money that they saved by switching from kerosene, to help purchase lamps for others.
“Our project is actually financially sustainable going forward,” Hirschfeld said.
Julie Hirschfeld told CBS 2′s Kristine Johnson that she is proud of her son’s accomplishments.
“There were other people whose lives were better because of him,” Julie said. “He heard about how incredibly happy the kids were and their parents were and there was just this major change in him.”
Hirschfeld recently won a $36,000 prize from the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. He said he plans to put the money back into his own solar lamp project.
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