At Morocco orphanage, an Emirati project lights up children’s lives

A project allowing children to build their own solar-powered lights helped bring happiness to orphans in Morocco.

Akon helps Majid assemble one of Beacon of Hope’s light kits which will allow the Moroccon orphan to work on homework and read at night. Naser Al Wasmi / The National
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MARRAKECH // When Majid was able to connect the final wire on his solar-powered light, it was hard to tell what lit up the room more – the light or the nine-year-old’s eyes.

He was one of 30 children at Centre Fiers and Forts orphanage, located half an hour’s drive from Marrakech, who learnt on Monday how to assemble the lights donated by Beacon of Hope, a non-profit founded by Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bint Khalifa Al Nahyan.

They were taught by Akon, the American singer and record producer, and Bertrand Piccard, the Solar Impulse 2 co-pilot who this year completed a round-the-world flight using only solar energy.

The two were in Morocco, with members of Beacon of Hope, as part of the Conference of Parties 22, which looks to enact last year’s Paris Agreement for reducing the expected increase in global warning over the next 30 years to less than 2°C.

The solar light project by Beacon of Hope was part of its mission towards “light, literacy and life”. The lights provide a lesson in basic engineering and allow the children to read at night.

Many of the 110 children who rely on Fiers and Forts have been orphaned, either because their parents have died or their mother has been drawn into prostitution. The orphanage is capable of housing 34 of them, with the rest are accommodated by families in the village.

Within 15 minutes the entire group of students had assembled the solar lights and, with the newly donated books, could barely wait for night to fall to give them an opportunity to read by the light harnessed from the Sun earlier in the day.

Akon said that work on the Beacon of Hope project was gratifying. “Man, when you ask me, this is the work that is worth it. This is what I find more gratifying,” he said. With music, “you’re going to get some awards and fame, but this is what I really enjoy doing”.

Mr Piccard, who has also launched a clean technology network, said that the adventure of travelling around the world was in many ways an avenue to allow him to achieve work like this.

“Solar Impulse’s goal was not only to finish flights. It carried a message more than anything else,” he said. “It’s starting for me now, thanks to the flight around the world.”

The world should not underestimate the power of clean technologies – not only at the peak of engineering capabilities, as with the Solar Impulse project, but with simpler measures that can have a life-changing effect, as did the light project at the orphanage.

“For many of these children, living in abject poverty, this is the first time in their lives they can read at night, and that’s huge for education and improving their situation,” said Larisa Miller, co-chairwoman for Beacon of Hope.

The organisation also distributed books to the children straight from Sheikha Shamma’s group and Dubai Cares.

“Light and literacy go hand in hand and they are so essential to hope guiding the future,” said Ms Miller, an American. “Through the simple science lesson of how to build the light, not only does it show them the science behind light, but for many of them it will give them access to life after dark.”

The project is active in Yemen, Jordan, Liberia, Morocco and other countries around the Middle East and North Africa.

For a donation of Dh3,000, the Centre Fiers and Forts can provide education, food and housing for an orphaned child.​