Sometimes life has a funny way of connecting people in rather random ways. The more I blog and use my voice on social media, the more amazing connections I continue to make and it always astounds me. One connection I made recently was with Pamela O’Brien, Director of Business Development and Communications of New Vision Renewable Energy. Through Twitter, Pam saw the work I was doing, contacted me and eventually our relationship has led to partnership where I share the amazing work that New Vision is doing to provide solar lights around the world.

Last week, I had the honor of learning even more about New Vision’s work by a face to face meeting with Abdujabar (Abdul) Dire, a senior technical service engineer who works at Minnesota-based diversified technology company 3M and is part of the 3Mgives Team Africa. Over lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant, Abdul shared his story of how he came to America as a teenager from Ethiopia and how years later he is working to give back to his village by bringing the children light. It is an amazing, inspiring story that I am excited to share.

A big part of Africa lacks electricity. In Ethiopia alone, it is estimated that over 80% of the population live off the grid without electricity and there are many negative consequences*. First of all, without electricity children are not able to study at night and are kept further behind in their education. Families are forced to cook inside their homes usually with unsafe cookstoves creating enough smoke inside the home to cause health problems and dangerous conditions.

The impact of a child’s health when studying by kerosene is equal to inhaling two packs of cigarettes a day. Furthermore, these toxic kerosene lamps cause horrible burns and are responsible for severe respiratory and vision problems too – adding up to more than 4,000 deaths per day. More people die each year from kerosene-related respiratory illnesses than HIV/AIDs and malaria combined. And more than half of them are below the age of five.

Lack of electricity means millions of women are forced to give birth in the dark without light. Furthermore, a lot of children’s time is wasted spent gathering wood to burn instead of going to school. And the list goes on. Basically life stops when the sun goes down in many of these communities.

Per ONE, a global advocacy group that works to eradicate extreme poverty, “lack of access to electricity and modern energy sources profoundly limits economic development, constrains people’s life chances and traps millions in extreme poverty”. Here are surprising facts:

  • 7 out of 10 people living in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity.
  • 30% of health centres and over a third of primary schools in Africa have to function with no electricity at all.
  • 8 out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa heat their homes and cook food using open fires.
  • Nearly half of African businesses state that lack of access to reliable power affects their operations and growth.

Source: ONE

Koba Adi Village in Southern Ethiopia. A visit in 2009, caught Abdul's heart and soul. The kids desperately wanted to learn.

Koba Adi village in Southern Ethiopia. A visit in 2009, caught Abdul’s heart and soul. The kids desperately wanted to learn.

Abdul was born in a remote Southern Ethiopia in Bidire, a small village near the Kenyan border. A smart child, he grew up yearning to learn and wasn’t at all deterred by the fact that he had to walk at least 45 minutes to and from school each day once he reached middle school. Like his neighbors, he grew up without electricity, running water or much else in the way of material goods.

In 2000, Abdul had an opportunity that would change his life. He came to the United States with his uncle moving to St. Paul, Minnesota. Abdul was 16 years old at the time and did not speak a word of English. He was enrolled into a program called LEAP (Limited English Academy) in St. Paul and within one year he was able to go to a regular St. Paul public school. His junior year in high school, Abdul learned about an innovative program at 3M, one of Minnesota’s largest international companies, where students could be trained in science and work at 3M over the summer. That program marked the beginning of Abdul’s career at one of the world’s most innovative global companies.

In 2007, Abdul began working full-time at 3M and spent the first years of his career working with an international team. At 3M, Abdul became part of Team Africa, a grassroots volunteer team within the company whose main goal is to provide community service both domestically and internationally. In the December of 2009, Abdul returned home to Ethiopia for the first time in years. As an employee at one of the world’s most innovative companies, Abdul felt blessed but he also saw his homeland in different eyes.

A visit to the Koba Adi village in Southern Ethiopia sparked his passion and desire to give back to his homeland. While in the village, he learned that the local school went up to only 4th grade so many children who loved to learn, kept repeating 4th grade over and over again. There was no chance for education. Abdul worked with the village to harness their commitment to expanding their school and in a few years with Abdul’s help the school built two classrooms to hold 5th and 6th grade. It inspired Abdul to do more, this time with the provision of solar lights so the children can study at night.

In December of 2013, 3M and New Vision formed a partnership with the plan to use 3M’s reflective film to create solar lights that are available unassembled in a kit form. Abdul learned about New Vision’s Light A School program and engaged fellow 3M employees as well as a local school of 5th graders to help build 300 solar lights that would be delivered to Ethiopia this November. Abdul is flying to Ethiopia at the end of the month to personally deliver the lights to two villages, Bidire (his home village) and Koba Adi. He has even left some of the lights unassembled so he can teach the children there how to assemble them.

It will be the first time these children and their families have ever had light at night! The lights are powered by a solar battery that is placed out in the sun all day long to charge and then once plugged into the light, once dark homes will be light! It is amazing.

RayofLife Banner copy

The Ray of Life Whole Room Solar Solution includes a solar light, panel and a sun-charged battery that has enough power to also charge a cell phone. Once charged, it will light a room for 3-4 hours.

Since there is not good internet access in rural Ethiopia, I will plan on sharing Abdul’s journey once he returns to Minnesota in mid-December. I look forward to seeing his photos and hearing the wonderful stories of hope and inspiration he achieves from this trip!

Further reading:

*Lumina Net: Country Data, Ethiopia.

“3M Shines a Light on a Small Village in Southern Ethiopia” via Savoy

We kicked off our first meeting last year by teaching 70 5th graders at L’Etoile du Nord, a French Immersion School in the Saint Paul Public School, how to create the lights.

Press Release: New Vision Finds Hope and Light with the Help of 3M

French Immersion School Etoile du Nord Launches Project to Make Solar Lights for Schools in Ethiopia

Global Giving: Help Empower School Children in Ethiopia with Light by Donating 

Here is a fabulous YouTube video by 3M which shows the lights:


About 3M

With $31 billion in sales, 3M employs about 89,000 people worldwide and produces more than 55,000 products, including: adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, dental and orthodontic products, electronic materials, medical products, car-care products (sun films, polish, wax, car shampoo, treatment for the exterior, interior and the under chassis rust protection), electronic circuits, and optical films. 3M has operations in more than 70 countries.

The company is committed to building on its long-standing history of strategic investments to advance local communities. Since the inception of the  3M Foundation in 1953, 3Mgives has invested more than $1.4 billion in cash and products to support education, community and the environment throughout the U.S. 3M’s investments are bolstered by a strong volunteer program. At 3M, employees share their time and talent to improve every life.  Last year, 3Mers volunteered more than 250,000 hours and raised an additional $1.7 million through matching donations. 




  1. This connection exemplifies the power of the work that you are doing. I envision that you are building a giant recipe book of networks and resources to feed the unknowing the known. Your advocacy is not only admirable but it’s working. Congratulations–for me the most important work is the environment. This post is particularly one that I can embrace. I connect immediately to thoughts of water shortages and energy shortages and food shortages. Another starting point is the earth itself. Without a healthy planet, what do we have? I must determine what more I can do.

    1. Thanks Sally! It feels like the more social good work I do the more connections I continue to make. This project really inspires me. I love the renewable energy aspect and how it can bring light cheaply and environmentally safe to people around the world.

  2. That your heart leads you to make a difference is an example we all should follow. A little makes such an impact in these were undeveloped countries.

  3. Thank you Nicole for a wonderful story! I am so glad I met a kindred spirit that can help us tell the stories of the MANY people that live without light around the world. Our Ray of Life lasts 6-8 hours with our new battery however we teach time management since the three strips can be illuminated separately for a night light, desk lamp and whole room light. Charging a cell phone may drain the battery quicker and they may choose to use the stored “power” to do this at night. And, since the light comes as a kit, we can easily replace simple parts so we don’t have one more product littering the landscape.

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