As a time lapse of the sun setting on Calgary’s downtown skyline played on a large screen, Dave Kelly, the main speaker for this year’s Dinner in the Dark gala at the Telus Spark Centre on Nov. 24, set the theme of the night.
“For all of us that drove here tonight as the sun was going down, that just means that you turn on your headlights. It just means that you flick on a light at your house. It just means you turn on any kind of light that you need,” said Kelly, a former local television presenter.
“But for some people, sundown means that’s it for light. That’s it. Which our country never has to think about. But folks do. They do have to think about it. If they are not on the grid they are using things like kerosene, which are far more dangerous or expensive or polluting things to light their house.”
The dinner was hosted by Light Up the World, a Canadian non-profit organization that aims to provide sustainable energy to communities that live off the electrical grid. According to World Energy Outlook, an estimated 1.2 billion people – 16 per cent of the global population – do not have access to electricity. Founded in 1997, LUTW has provided more than 34,000 lights to over 1.5 million people in 54 countries.
LUTW is currently focused in South America and has recently opened an office in Peru, where most of its projects are conducted. Tim Schulhauser, a member of the board of directors, visited Peru in 2013, where he helped bring energy to a school in the community of Nueva York, deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
“[We] installed a solar system on a school that had a computer room full of brand new computers but no electricity. So they had a diesel generator for the school but they never had any money to buy diesel ... so they never had electricity,” said Schulhauser, speaking to the Calgary Journal during the event.
Nine local Peruvians, including a few women, took an interest and trained with Schulhauser and his team. In a follow-up trip a few years after, LUTW saw that everything was still running well in the community.
“They were able to learn how to use computers so they are not as disadvantaged when they might move into the cities. You can imagine being 18 years old now and finishing high school and if you have never used a computer you would be at a pretty big disadvantage if you are moving to the city.”
Christoph Schultz, the executive director of LUTW, said an impactful experience for him was meeting a Costa Rican family that earned $100 a month, yet spent $30 of that on candles.
“They’re spending the same amount that I’m spending [on my energy bill] just to have four candles in their house at night. They spend way disproportionately more than we spend,” said Schultz.
“When you think of poverty, a lot of times people think about, well people need to earn more, people need to have higher incomes, but what we don’t always think about is where do they spend that money? And if you could just put in something where they spend much less than $30 a month, that’s the same as them getting a raise, so that’s really, that part is really important.”
As the sun set during the 15-minute time lapse, each table at Telus Spark had to quickly build an LED centerpiece. Although the room was dark, enough light was produced to help the servers.
This was LUTW’s second Dinner in the Dark event and 120 people came out in support of the Calgary wing of the organization, raising $31,000 to fund energy initiatives. Tickets to the event cost $100 each which generated a $50 tax receipt.
Schultz said that the event was well received last year. “A lot of people at the end of it actually appreciated light, which was what we were looking for. It was for people to say, ‘Okay, I get why this work is important.’”
- By Anna Junker and Amy Simpson