Unite to Light Blog

Generosity and Resiliency:
Notes from the Field

October 28, 2019
This summer I was privileged to travel to Nairobi and Kenya as part of an outreach program with St. Mary’s church in East Brunswick, NJ. What surprised me the most was the resiliency and joy I encountered from people who have struggled so greatly and live with so little.
Author Bassem with community members in Kenya receiving solar Luke Lights.

My trip began on June 5, 2019 when I arrived in Nairobi with a group who were volunteering to assist impoverished families with food, clothes, and medical care. We first traveled to a village on the outskirts of Nairobi, named Tala. There I met numerous exceedingly hospitable villagers, who invited us, perfect strangers, into their homes. Their homes were often very modestly furnished, and covered with hay and scrap materials for roofing. The women in the house were tirelessly cooking for their families without access to running water or electricity. Aginess, a middle-aged farmer and mother of two, described the ongoing famine in the village, which had by then lasted for several months. This had been compounded by the drought: it hadn’t rained for nearly five months.  We distributed over 25 Unite to Light Luke Lights to the villagers there in the hopes that a little light would bring them a little relief in these tough times.

Next, I arrived in Maseno with my volunteer group on June 8, about an hour flight away from Nairobi, and a much more rural and impoverished city, where the leaders of the trip knew much of the community. We met several villagers who shared their joy with us and welcomed us into their houses. There, we distributed over 75 Luke Lights to families, widows, churches and an orphanage in the area.

When villagers from neighboring villages heard about the lights they contacted me through one of the volunteers from the village to request lights for their community. In Maseno we met the Opopo family, where three generations of the family live in a small two-bedroom house. We gave them two lamps to help Brian James and Maxwell, brothers, who attend local elementary and high schools. The brothers told us they would use the lamps to study at night more effectively, getting them closer to achieving their dreams of pursuing higher education and obtaining well-paid careers. The children walk about 2 miles to get to school and going to a university after high school is quite rare in the community. However, the children’s grandmother, Gawdencia, hopes that they study hard so that they can attend universities, progress in their careers, and get good jobs with steady income so that they are able to support themselves. She was also excited because the lamps will help her get around the house more easily at night.

I encountered many more amazing families with huge hearts and smiles throughout the rest of my trip. I’m exceedingly grateful to have been able to be a conduit for Unite to Light to these beautiful people, and hope that these lamps will truly light up their lives.

I would also like to sincerely thank the IEEE Photonics Society for sponsoring me to embark on my journey in Kenya. They covered my travel costs and provided me with all of the Unite to Light Luke Lights I distributed on my trip.


This is a guest blog from Bassem Tossoun, a postdoctoral researcher at Hewlett Packard Labs from Los Angeles, CA. He has volunteered with Unite to Light for 5 years and is passionate about using the field of optics and photonics to improve the way people live around the world.


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