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Childbirth in Darkness

Co-founder Dr. Laura Stachel went to Northern Nigeria in 2008 to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals. She witnessed deplorable conditions in state facilities including sporadic electricity that impaired maternity and surgical care. Without a reliable source of electricity, nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients waited hours or days for life-saving procedures. The outcomes were often tragic.

Improving Maternal Health Outcomes

Laura wrote to her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator back in Berkeley, California. Together, Laura and Hal co-founded We Care Solar to improve maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity. Hal designed an off-grid solar electric system for the hospital Laura was studying, targeting the maternity ward, labor room, laboratory and operating theatre.

A Portable Solution

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Hal and Laura with an early solar suitcase

Hal created a suitcase-sized prototype of the hospital solar electric system so Laura could show Nigerian hospital workers the LED lights, headlamps and walkie-talkies planned for deployment. When Laura returned to Nigeria toting the “solar suitcase,” her Nigerian colleagues immediately grasped its significance and began using this kit to charge headlamps and walkie-talkies while they awaited the larger solar installation. In addition, hospital employees introduced Laura to clinicians in outlying health facilities who begged her to bring solar lighting to their own clinics, too.

Momentum Grows

We Care Solar initially assembled Solar Suitcases for midwives in northern Nigerian maternal health clinics. As word of our innovative power solution spread, we received requests from clinics and health workers around the world, including medical relief teams in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. We first relied on students and volunteers to help us assemble and deliver Solar Suitcases. As demand increased, we needed formal mechanisms to reach scale. The Blum Center for Developing Economies and The MacArthur Foundation supported our technology research, our educational programs, and our field studies in Northern Nigeria. World Health Organization invited us to partner with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research in bringing 20 Solar Suitcases to primary health care clinics in Liberia. Together, these projects helped us to improve our suitcase design and gain important feedback from health providers.

In 2011, We Care Solar began utilizing a local contract manufacturer in California to assemble Solar Suitcases. As of December 2016, approximately 1,900 Solar Suitcases have been assembled and sent to 27 countries around the world. We have developed regional programs with NGO and UN partners in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Nepal, Ethiopia and the Philippines.