Lighting the way for safe childbirth

'Solar suitcase' saving lives
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Story highlights

  • The "solar suitcases" designed by We Care Solar are saving lives around the world
  • Many mothers, babies are dying because their health facilities lack reliable electricity
  • One of the solar kits also helped during a recent cholera outbreak in the Congo

Solar energy in a suitcase is an invention saving lives around the world in places that lack reliable electricity.

Dr. Laura Stachel discovered several years ago that many women and babies were dying during childbirth simply because there wasn't adequate light to treat them. So she and her husband came up with a portable solar energy kit to provide light and power when necessary.

Since 2009, their nonprofit, We Care Solar, has given out nearly 250 free kits to medical facilities in Africa, Asia and South America.

"A lot of the clinics don't have any electricity," Stachel said. "Midwives use kerosene lanterns; they may use candles; they use their cell phones to deliver babies."

The "solar suitcase" was designed to help during childbirth, but one recently came in handy when there was a cholera outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On his first day with the kit, a doctor from the Congo delivered a woman with twins. The very next day, there was an outbreak of cholera, a deadly bacterial disease.

"Every man, woman and child who came to his clinic over the next 30 days were treated day and night," Stachel said. "And he put 15 mats on the ground outside because so many people needed to be cared for and couldn't fit in the clinic."

CNN Hero: Dr. Laura Stachel
CNN Hero: Dr. Laura Stachel

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At night, Stachel said, the doctor would take the solar suitcase outside and use it to tend to his patients and treat them with intravenous medications.

"For the first time in the history of (the doctor's) island, no one died of cholera," Stachel said. "He told us that in the past, 50% of patients would die, and 80% of those deaths would happen at night."

Stachel says she cried when she heard the story, and she hopes her nonprofit can continue to help more people in need.

"One of the things I do whenever I bring a solar suitcase to a clinic in another country is, I really let the health-care workers know that there are people on the other side of the world who care about them," she said.

"I say: 'When you use this suitcase and it's late at night, don't think that nobody's caring about what you're doing. You have sisters and brothers on the other side of the world that cared enough to actually contribute to this and to bring you light. I don't want you to feel alone."

Read the full story about Stachel and her work with We Care Solar

Want to get involved? Check out the We Care Solar website at wecaresolar.org and see how to help.