The social entrepreneur and his team are building an installation that would help light homes in time for the April 27 celebrations—and they’re asking for everyday folks to pitch in by working with their hands.
In the middle of last year, Illac Diaz happened to watch Pay It Forward, the 2000 Mimi Leder drama that starred Haley Joey Osment. In the movie, Osment plays a kid who decides to repay a favor by doing good deeds to three people, who in turn will do the same to three others.
This got Diaz, who has been a social entrepreneur since the early aughts, thinking: why don’t we start a chain of our own? “Social entrepreneurs can really solve many problems,” he says—even ones mired in a health crisis.
Light the way
This led to the creation of Light It Forward last July. The campaign challenges individuals to build one solar-powered lamp, post it on their social media accounts, and tag friends to do the same. The lamps will then be donated to an electricity-deficient home, an “energy poverty” that affects around 20 million Filipinos.
Light It Forward falls under Diaz’s venture called Liter of Light, an initiative that started in 2013 that bills itself as a “grassroots green lighting program bringing low-cost, zero-carbon solar bottle bulbs to underprivileged communities worldwide.” This initiative has spread to 32 countries—Colombia, Yemen, India, Bangladesh, just to name a few—empowering around one million people a year.
These lighting products are relatively easy to put together, gives employment to marginalized groups, and provides an alternative to expensive and sometimes dangerous kerosene lamps. According Liter of Light, these simple constructs reduce carbon emissions by 1,000kg.
More than symbols
Before the lamps make it to the villages, they find temporary life as art installations—anything from a portrait of Rizal, or the largest rosary in the world.
Over the past year, the installations have turned to honoring the heroes of the pandemic. Diaz and his team called up Luneta Park while Metro Manila was still in lockdown. “’Is it possible that I honor the frontliners by doing a solar artwork?’” he asked the park’s management. “Each and every light will honor a frontliner for giving us hope and we will keep this light in your honor.” That installation, which was put up last Bonifacio Day, led the largest Philippine flag solar art in the world.
Liter of Light then got a call from the National Quincentennial Committee, which was in the process of organizing events and celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the April 27 Battle of Mactan.
While the celebration was an important recognition of Lapu-Lapu’s heroism, Diaz and his team were worried with environmental impact of the activities connected to it. “We wanted to sort of reflect the new concern,” he says, adding the carbon footprint of fireworks, of building structures, and flying in people cannot just be overlooked. “What we did was to get thousands of people to build solar lights to reduce carbon footprint.”
Light It Forward got 4,000 participants in Metro Manila, including celebrities like Dingdong Dantes and Colleen Garcia, between July to December last year. As they continue the campaign for the Quincentennial, they are aiming for more. “Right now we’re just aiming for just 10,000 people until April 27, and we hope that we can make it bigger,” Diaz says. The installation would be of a warrior to celebrate Lapu-Lapu.
Filipinos for the world
Diaz and his team were are also chosen as the Philippine private sector representatives to the 2021 World Expo, a global even that will be held in Dubai in October, which expects around 20 million attendees. “We’re getting 6,000 Filipinos in the UAE to celebrate it to make a map of the world in solar lights,” Diaz shares.
This is also the 50th anniversary of UAE-PH diplomatic ties, and both countries will be highlighted in the installation.
The message they wish to convey at the expo is that Filipinos are at the forefront of this global fight against the pandemic. “While the whole world is paralyzed, Filipinos are doing this on a large scale,” Diaz says, pointing out the sheer number of frontliner pinoys spread out all over the world.
“Hindi lang tayo ilaw ng tahanan, ilaw rin tayo ng mundo. That is really what I want the artwork to say,” Diaz says. “Hindi lang tayo ilaw ng tahanan—or just giving money back to the Philippines—we also do things that change the world.”
For more information on Liter of Light, visit literoflight.org.
The full spread on Liter of Light can be found in Volume 1 of Lifestyle Asia 2021.