In The Light: Electrify Africa

I have to have light. 

I crave it, feed off of it, rely on both natural and artificial sources to meet my needs every day like so many of us do. 

I can't create without it. I can't push the brayer or wield my palette knife to spread color across the canvas without light illuminating my work table. 

I can't walk through the dark to give Austin his pacifier when he wakes at 2am, or through the living room to the kitchen for a drink without flicking on the flashlight on my phone or the switch on my wall. On a practical level, grabbing a light source to guide me helps me actually see what I'm doing or where I'm going, but if I'm perfectly honest, I can see in the dark quite well. When I reach for a light source, I'm reaching for comfort because at nearly 33 years of age, I have yet to outgrow my childhood fear of being IN the dark. 

Mentally, light is my defense against the gravity wells of my bipolar disorder. More than 2 days of gray, and my mood begins to cycle away from being level and dipping into darkness. That's when I find myself frantically chasing after light the most; hoping that each time I sit and absorb it in an artificial form in front of my therapy lamp, my grasp on mental wellness will strengthen, tighten, and be fortify me against a lurking internal darkness.

 

I have to have light. I need to be in the light. I need it assist me on a practical level as I navigate daily life with three kids. I need it to see as I create my work. But it was realizing how much I need it for my mental well-being that hit me the hardest as I sat and pondered what I could offer here for ONE's #LightForLight blog relay in support of #ElectrifyAfrica. 

Even as debilitating as my illness can become, when the sun remains hidden behind the clouds or I simply need an extra boost to keep my mind from traveling down its darker corridors, I can plug an artificial light source into a wall socket in my home. I can rely on electricity to power a necessary component of my treatment plan. I'm privileged in that I have access to electricity to power other physical aspects of my daily life, but if I absolutely had to live without some of those "first world" things, I'm sure I'd be able to find a way to do so. But mentally? I have medication, I have a therapist, I have paint, I have other self-care weapons, but if my access to light was restricted because I had no electricity, I know that not having it as a means of care would impact my sanity...my grip on it would loosen and I'd become far more susceptible to falling in the gravity well of depression, without anything to illuminate a path out of it. 

So that's what I'm thinking about as I stare down the reality of what it would be like for me to live without electricity. I'm privileged in that this isn't my reality, but it IS for those in sub-sahara Africa, where 7 out of 10 people (that's nearly 600 million) don't have access to electricity to power their daily lives and meet their needs like we do here. 

This lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls:

·       Poor healthcare:  Thirty percent of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lack electricity, making it impossible to store vaccines and lifesaving drugs, or operate essential medical equipment like incubators and x-ray machines. 

·       Stifled economic growth:  According to survey data of African businesses, reliable energy access is a bigger concern than corruption, lack of access to capital, or sufficiently trained labor.

·       Toxic fumes: Each year, more than three million people worldwide die from exposure to the toxic smoke of indoor open fires and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting — more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

·       Limited or no education:  Ninety million children in sub-Saharan Africa attend schools that lack electricity. In many places, women and girls are forced to spend hours during the school day hunting for fuel.

·       Lack of safety: Without streetlights, telephones, or other means of communication, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence after dark. 

Those are some pretty sobering and alarming stats, but the good news is that ONE is working with Congress to get the Electrify Africa Act passed and funded, so that there reduced or eliminated by 2020. I know when I'm presented with global issues like this I'm always left wondering what the action plan is, and how it will actually be implemented, and what I really love about ONE is that they make both the issue and The Plan of Action very clear. So I'll share with you what was shared with me:  

The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 would prioritize and coordinate U.S. government resources in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 to:

·       Promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.

·       Encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power in both rural and urban areas using a broad mix of energy options.

·       Encourage in-country reforms to facilitate public-private partnerships and increase transparency in power production, distribution, and pricing.

·       Promote efficient institutional platforms that provide electrical service to rural and underserved areas.

Once I hear what the Plan of Action is, I also always wonder what, if anything I can do to take tangible action on such a large issue that feels beyond my reach. Again, I love ONE because they make that very clear too. They never ask for money-they just ask for our voice both online and off to raise awareness and apply pressure on our leaders and lawmakers when necessary to ensure the Plan of Action gets done. That's why I'm writing this post today and participating in this campaign with other writers & photographers-it's something tangible I can do to put it on your radar and ask you to consider lending your voice and support to. How can you do that? It's easy.

First, EDUCATE yourself on the issue and read more about #ElectrifyAfrica: 

6 Ways energy poverty threatens health care for the poorest

ONE Energy Policy Document

Why poverty is sexist: energy edition

Energy Poverty is Sexist

Second: SIGN the petition: http://bit.ly/1GStA0E

And third: AMPLIFY. Commit to talking about this both online and off with your communities by sharing information on #ElectrifyAfrica

Check out these posts written earlier this month from Ana Flores, Diana Prichard, Chelsea Hudson, Danielle Cohen, C. C. Chapman, and look for Meredith Walker's over on Amy Poehler's Smart Girls tomorrow. 

You can also follow along on Instagram by checking out the #lightforlight & #electrifyafrica tags for light filled images and tagging your own with the same. 

I don't know what it's like to have to outrun darkness physically, day in and day out as I navigate my way through living. But I do know what it's like to have to fight to stay out of its reach internally, and I'm grateful that I have something to help me power my way through it when it gets too close. Electricity is easily accessible to me and powers more than just my physical needs-it empowers me to stand in the light when I need it the most. And for me, that's what I'm hoping we can get #ElectrifyAfrica to do for 600 million people, not just physically, but mentally. No one should have to live in darkness. The light is for us all.