Los Gatos United Methodist Church
“The greatest Christian virtue is doing, the least is talking” John Wesley
I HAVE SELDOM BEEN so rewarded for being a Methodist as on my fourth trip to Colonet, Baja California to help build the 39th and 40th small houses there; and to interpret for a Lighting For Literacy (LFL) project, where middle school science teachers and students lighted up the lives and nights of eight families in Ejido Punta Colonet. The students had been enrolled in STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), inspired by their science teachers, to put together solar panel powered lighting systems and to actually go to install them.
About 1.5 billion people (20 percent of the world’s population) must resort to some sort of carbon based fuel for night lighting; it is unhealthy, contributes to the CO2 burden, and is a significant fire hazard around flimsy remote structures. Otherwise they have no light after the sun sets. The cats at Los Gatos Methodist Church and Rotary International (RI) know LFL well, having witnessed it’s lightening fast 60 day gestation and assisted its birth. The very first LFL solar lighting system installation was actually in Colonet, Baja California in 2013. It was developed one afternoon at a fast food restaurant by two members of the Methodist Church; one was Doug McNeal, also a Rotarian, who promoted support by the local Rotary. Already, affiliated programs reach more than eight continents, introducing STEM and LFL to more than 1,200 middle school teachers and their students who are at an age where inner places and lives can be lighted up in the process of lighting up remote places. Kevin Kinsella, who was also at Colonet this April, is an inspired and enlightening science teacher with LFL.
I felt enlightened, as well. The photographs below reveal the depth of our experience more clearly than words. They also speak of the nature and the power of Family; in this case, families who keep animals in, and desert varmints like coyotes out by fashioning close-spaced fences from brittle, dead stalks of cactus plants, wire and woven plastic waste; who carve out a place in the desert to imagine a house – a home – into existence, though often largely made of trash. That’s something only families like those pictured below, can do.
As to my own family, I would have never gone to Colonet without following my daughter, Amy, who coordinated the complex project involving two countries, more than 40 people, and the finances involved; or John my son in law; and my son, Fred, a builder who hauled his tools and powerplant 3,600 miles round trip; and Tom, another builder from the South Bay who brought tools and material to the sites; or Ivan a local builder; or Antonio, a local pastor; or the many other volunteers and donors, the glue that held it all together.
After each solar lighting installation, instructions are given. The switch is turned on by one of the children. The student who put together the unit signs it and makes the final point by giving each child a set of age appropriate Spanish books. We take a group photograph. Adios is then the only perfect single word speech.
These live links tell about LFL better than I:
The photographs below and speak more clearly than words, and may encourage the reader to consider the possibility of LFL:
First job of every morning putting together two units for two houses. I couldn’t see how it was done, but these people did. A cell phone charger pug is included.
The plastic bag holds mounting brackets and connectors. Note all the wires, and the name of the student on the lid.
The rechargeable battery goes in the box too. Simple, no? Yeah, Right!
Tom in a moment of silent, serious concentration. He is a monk in the skin of a grizzly.
Below is a wash-house. Behind is a fenced garden and unseen in the distance is a small mountain range where 10000 ft high peaks pull water from moist sea air in winter, providing water for this productive sun drenched agricultural region.
A fence perfectly representing the environment. The stakes are dried up spikes of cactus plants. They are strung along barb wire wrapped in salvaged black plastic bags.
Below are dried roots of the same cactus- Maguey- dug up from the sullen and reticent gravelly soil at considerable effort, to serve for cooking.
Alejandro cleaning the spines from Prickly Pear cactus leaves for very common vegetable dish, nopales, He gave us a one week old dried rattlesnake which he advised us to let dry more, then grind up, and use with any food…like re fried beans and ground rattlesnake. Cascabel con frijoles refritos.
I fell under the spell of this woman. She was a migrant farm worker from Chiapas, not speaking any Spanish; met and married. Their 15 year old son son works for a builder and did much of the construction; 15 years is adult at times. (During WWII my dad worked at a copper mine in Chihuahua. When I was 10 my he took me to El Paso and put me on a troop train with $5. I got to Northern CA with some help from the soldiers. Like children in Colonet, we were old when young then. From this distance that doesn’t seem a bad thing)
I can’t pronounce or recall her name but will never forget her. In this photo Antonio, the pastor of the Christian church in Colonet is helping her dig a footing for a table in her wash house.
Another home when the light was turned on in this dark windowless room. It is only the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb, but What a difference! I like this photo also for the high heeled shoes over the door. There were 3 pairs but i didn’t want to be too intrusive; however they appear in the last photo.
Little silent things like those shoes have much to tell if we listen.
After the lights are installed, instructions for their use given and the switch thrown turned by one of the children LFL makes the final point by giving each child a set of age appropriate books; we take a last group photograph; and Adios is the perfect one word speech.