Lights in the Darkness

A little light can make a lot of difference. That’s what Adie Selassie ’22 aims to prove with her nonprofit, Live in the Lights. The organization has one aim: To provide solar panels to colonias, living areas along the Texas-Mexico border where residents often lack the most basic of services, including running water, sewage treatment, and electricity. It’s a problem she came face to face with during her 8th grade year.

“In 8th grade I took a minimester trip to the Texas colonias,” Selassie said. “We spent about a week there and I was really struck by the poverty; it’s something that I hadn’t seen in the U.S. When I came back to the DC area, I had to do something.”

After doing her research, one need stood out among many: electricity. Many of the residents of the colonias aren’t even attached to the already-overworked Texas electrical grid. Due to job loss during the pandemic, many people who were hooked up could no longer afford to pay their bills, so their power was shut off. Selassie found a source for portable solar panels that are easy to install and a local group—Proyecto Azteca—to partner with. “They know the families very well, so they’re able to assess which families need the panels the most,” Selassie said. “Then we set up a waiting list for other families, and Proyecto Azteca distributes them.”

The electricity is useful not just for the obvious, like allowing students to work on homework after dark or providing power for a refrigerator; it’s also crucial for people who struggle with health problems. “I think 30% of the Southern Texas population deals with diabetes. After visiting, I got a ton of emails saying ‘my wife has diabetes, and we really need a solar panel,’” which can be used to keep insulin refrigerated and to charge insulin pumps, Selassie said. “There’s also a great need for CPAP machines, which need to be charged, and that was another health concern that the solar panels help address.”

Thanks to being fully vaccinated, earlier this summer Selassie was able to return to the colonias for the first time since her minimester trip.

“I was there for four days, distributing solar panels, talking to the families, interacting with them and explaining the benefits of solar power,” she said. “It was just an amazing experience to be able to meet families that we’re helping. I remembered from 2018 how they lived, but when you don’t go somewhere for two or three years, it sort of fades into the background. To see that again and reacquaint myself with it really lit another fire in me to keep going with this project.”

The ease and affordability of the solar panels is, of course, crucially important to Selassie and Live in the Lights, but she’s aware of the environmental benefits solar panel can provide to a state that has already seen its electrical system brought to its knees by the climate crisis.

“It shocked me that this solution hasn’t been implemented already, because this is the perfect place to do it.”

“These solar panels are going to last them 15 or 20 years, and they’re helping the environment at the same time. In Texas, the sun can pretty much be utilized 365 days a year,” she said. “It shocked me that this solution hasn’t been implemented already, because this is the perfect place to do it.”

Selassie has one goal in mind: To provide power 100% of the residents living in the colonias she’s currently working with. No exceptions.

“It’s definitely something that’s achievable in the next two years if we keep going with the momentum that we have,” she said. “That would be an amazing thing.”

They say the stars at night are big and bright in the heart of Texas; Selassie and Live in the Lights aims to add to that glow with a safe, effective, and affordable source of power.

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