Filipino charity lights up first Dhai Dubai festival

Liter of Light, a Zayed Future Energy Prize winner, helps poor communities around the world build solar-powered lamps

Liter of Light was founded in 2013 as a response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones on record. Photo: Liter of Light
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As Dubai's first light art festival illuminates the city's diverse cultural fabric through the works of seven Emirati artists, its reach is going to be seen well beyond the city thanks to the work of one grassroots Filipino organisation.

Liter of Light, a charity founded in the Philippines, is the philanthropic partner of the ongoing Dhai Dubai. At the event in Expo City Dubai, visitors can attend workshops and help Liter of Light founder Illac Diaz and volunteers build solar lamps in under 30 minutes.

The lamps and other monetary contributions will then be donated to more than 1,600 families who live in floating homes in the country's Agusan Marsh, one of South-East Asia's largest wetlands.

"The solar lamps can be used initially for five years," Diaz tells The National. "Because the lamps are designed to be repairable, consumed parts can be easily replaced and accessible parts like common 12V LED are sourced from motorcycle shops and radio parts in the nearby city, extending their usable life."

Diaz, a social entrepreneur, founded Liter of Light in 2013 as a response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones on record.

"Liter of Light was one of the first organisations on the ground," he recalls. "When we arrived, we were told that tens of thousands of displaced people lacked electricity. We knew that access to lighting would be crucial to safety and reconstruction efforts. We also knew that many communities would be looking for ways to rebuild their livelihoods in the wake of the disaster.

"We built thousands of kerosene solar lamp conversions using locally found electronic parts and easily replicable home and street-lighting systems that were critical in creating safe environments in these disaster-affected areas. We were able to light up the pathways that they would use to search for loved ones, claim relief goods and provide safe passage against the crime, theft and violence that ensued just after the storm."

What began as a disaster-response initiative soon became the blueprint for Liter of Light's main mission – to help marginalised communities use easily available tools, such as recycled plastic bottles and locally sourced materials, to light up their homes, businesses and streets.

The simple and environmentally friendly solution – "liter" in the charity's name comes from discarded one-litre plastic bottles – has won him accolades around the world, including the $1.5 million (Dh5.51m) Zayed Future Energy Prize for non-profit organisations in 2015.

To date, Liter of Light has installed more than 350,000 bottle lights in more than 15 countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil, India, Egypt and Mexico.

Liter of Light's lighting solutions are also open-source, meaning the technology is easily accessible on its website and taught at workshops. This in turn has helped poor communities start businesses building and selling solar lamps.

"Light represents so much of our human experience," Diaz says. "From film to art, science and technology, light is also indelibly linked to knowledge. It allows us to see, to understand, and to shape the world around us."

At Dhai Dubai, he hopes to show and teach visitors the critical role light plays in sustainable development, he adds.

Diaz is no stranger to the UAE. Following his Zayed Future Energy Prize win, he also took part in Expo 2020 and the UN climate change conference Cop28, which Dubai hosted last year.

In 2018, Diaz helped set a Guinness World Record for his tribute to the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan when he conducted the "world's largest environmental sustainability lesson" in Abu Dhabi, which was attended by 282 students from across the UAE. At the event, 2,400 solar lanterns were also arranged to form the image of Sheikh Zayed.

"The UAE has been the main supporter of the social enterprise programme of Liter of Light, from startups in the Pacific islands to our farthest operation in Chile in South America," he says.

"Year after year, it has provided us access to speak, showcase and network at important events where we could grow our impact in more communities, from Cop28 to Dhai Dubai, and helped us meet more investors and partners."

What is Dhai Dubai?

Running until Sunday, Dhai Dubai is showcasing the work of seven Emirati artists from different generations and styles. The installations have been curated to take visitors on a visual journey of light around Expo City Dubai’s centrepiece dome, Al Wasl Plaza, each depicting different facets of Dubai’s story.

Artists featured include Mattar Bin Lahej, known for his calligraphic design on the facade of the Museum of the Future; Najat Makki, renowned for her colourful abstract work of the region’s landscapes; Mohamed Yousif, the multi-disciplinary artist and writer; as well as Abdalla AlMulla, Khalid Shafar, Reem Al Ghaith and Maitha Hamdan.

“The participating artists each come with their own unique stories that beautifully complement one another, and together tell the story of Dubai, which visitors will see come to life at Dhai Dubai," said Amna Abulhoul, the festival's co-curator and Expo City Dubai's executive creative director.

More information about Liter of Light is available at

Updated: February 02, 2024, 10:47 AM