Our Mission (Overview)

From the beginning, our ultimate mission and vision was to provide education and empowerment to disadvantaged youth in the Aspire Youth program in South Africa.  Together with Mark’s innate knowledge of the demographics, politics, economics, and culture of South Africa and with Ed’s entrepreneurial, technological, and business skills, our team has developed a “best fit” plan for jumpstarting a youth-driven business in the Cape Town area.  In late July 2015, Pam, Ed, and Natalie Macke (another 2011 TITP attendant) will be going back to Cape Town South Africa in order to train and educate the youth involved and personally launch the programs.  Pam’s return to South Africa is sponsored by the Fund for Teachers (http://www.fundforteachers.org/), which supports educators’ efforts to develop skills, knowledge and confidence that impact student achievement.

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Our plan involves the launching of two small businesses within Aspire Youth:

  1. The “Peace Lantern” Project – Youth in Aspire Youth will be educated and trained in the technology, manufacturing, and sales of a customized version of the Sunbender Do-it-Yourself Solar LED Jar Light Kit marketed as a South African “Peace Lantern.”  Peace Lanterns will be targeted for sale as a novelty, corporate gift, or souvenir targeting the tourist industry.  Likewise, Pam and Natalie will host a series of educator workshops where South African teachers will be presented with STEAM focused curricula developed around the construction of a solar powered jar.
  2. The “Pay As You Go (PAYG) Solar Lighting Project” – Youth in Aspire Youth will be educated and trained in our customized Pay-As-You-Go Photovoltaic module rental and purchase system which uses mobile phone technology and mobile banking infrastructure to electronically pre-pay for their photovoltaic use.  A variety of payment and photovoltaic module options will eventually become accessible, depending on the needs of the household and community.

How Did The Solar Lantern Project Get Started?

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My journey began when I was accepted in 2011 to the Toyota International Teacher Program’s first inaugural trip to South Africa (sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales and the Institute of International Education).

It was the trip of a lifetime (see a 4 min video of my 2011 trip).  I discovered the rich cultural and biological diversity there, but I also saw discrepancies in educational quality, vocational skills, and job opportunities.  Since then, I have partnered with Mark Gamble of Aspire Youth (http://www.aspireyouth.co.za/) and Ed Bender of Sundance Solar (http://store.sundancesolar.com/) to develop a way to educate and empower youth both in the U.S. and abroad with the ability to harness renewable energy.

It started with the development of a kit which could turn a simple glass jar in to a solar lantern.  Mark provided the original idea, Ed engineered and designed the components, and Pam developed the STEM-based curriculum and assessments.  Since the fall of 2013, the Sunbender Do-it-Yourself Solar LED Jar Light Kit (http://store.sundancesolar.com/sunbender-do-it-yourself-solar-led-jar-light-kit/) has been on the market for educational and personal use, and has been utilized in the U.S. and abroad.  A portion of the proceeds of the product’s sale has been set aside to fund projects for Aspire Youth, who serves at-risk South African youth in poverty.


Currently, this educational kit is available in nationally recognized vendors such as Wards, Sargent Welch, Edmund Scientific, and Amazon.  Sales of the DIY Solar LED Jar Light Kit have funded the shipment of 20 lantern kits to the Aspire Youth headquarters for pilot use.

We are very pleased with the success of our DIY Solar LED Jar Light Kits, but we have an even grander dream of putting education and technology to work by helping to alleviate energy poverty in lesser developed countries.  While the solar lantern kits have been successful in the U.S., impoverished youth in South Africa are existing off the grid, using kerosene lanterns for light at night.  All the while, safer and cleaner photovoltaic light could be made available to those living in energy poverty at a cost less than the long-term price of kerosene.