June 2019

By John Allman, Rotary eCub of the State of Jefferson

Over the course of four days in late June, the Navajo Solar Light Project installed another 13 kits in homes one the Navajo Nation. Headquartered at the Sanostee Chapter House, Rotarians from the Rotary eClub of the State of Jefferson and the Rotary Daybreak Club of Durango, CO were joined by other volunteers from around the country. A group of ten from the McMinnville Cooperative Ministries of McMinnville, Oregon made their way to New Mexico to join in. The Rotary Club of Five Points, Columbia, SC was represented, and other volunteers came from Richmond, VA, Chicago, IL and Albuquerque, NM.

Joe Williams supervises solar panel installation


Long days were spent travelling to remote areas of the Navajo Nation, far from any power grid to install solar panels to provide light to otherwise isolated elders.

The horizon can be limitless


Installation in progress

The group learned much about the Navajo culture during the installations and in the evenings. The art of Navajo weaving was demonstrated, petroglyphs visited, and a museum/trading post visited.

At the end of the last day together, the group was treated to a cook-out by one of our hosts and learned about traditional Navajo agriculture and the hard work required to cultivate food, even today.

Everyone agreed that it was a fulfilling experience. We brought light in the dark hours for the first time to several homes, including one where a bright young high school student will now be able to easily study her lessons at night.

Also of note:

  • Joe Williams, our Durango partner and founder of this project was recently awarded the “Service Above Self” Award by Rotary International. This is a very prestigious award and truly deserved by this wonderful man.
  • Many thanks to the McMinnville Cooperative Ministries for their very generous contribution of $4,215 towards the continuing efforts of the Navajo Solar Light Project.

John Allman receives donation from McMinnville Cooperative Ministries

  • Thanks to John Cox for a donation of $1,000 towards the cost of supporting our group during our stay on the Navajo Nation.
  • Thanks to Robin Walker Allman for her gift of $750
  • Thanks to the Rotary Club of Five Points, Columbia, SC and Emerson Smith for a $500 donation.

We are beginning the planning process for our Fall 2019 installation.  To be included on a mailing list to be kept informed of our future plans, please email John Allman at johnallmanconsulting@gmail.com. To learn more about the project and to donate, please go to: www.navajosolarlight.org.

One last comment:  Our last evening together ended with a magnificent rainbow. A great ending to a great experience.

A rainbow at day’s end


June 2018

By John Allman, Rotary eCub of the State of Jefferson

Over the weekend of June 15-17, I joined with members of the Durango Daybreak Rotary Club (Colorado) for installation of more solar light kits on the Navajo Nation. With Joe Williams and Nancy Dosdall from Durango, and about a dozen motivated middle-schoolers from the Noble and Greenhough School (Boston) and joined by PDG John Cox and his grandson Nicholas, we dodged spot showers and braved the wind and heat as we installed over 8 kits.

It should be noted that a large number of Durango Club volunteers were unable to attend due to the destructive wild fire that was threatening their homes and livelihood. Also, regular volunteers Roger Allen and Molly McCallum were unable to attend due to health issues. Our thoughts go out to all of them

Although our club has been supporting this project through volunteers, donations and matching District Grants nearly from its Chartering, it might be useful to take this opportunity to look at it a little more closely.

Most people in the United States take electricity for granted. Only if a powerful storm hits and it is taken away do we get an understanding of what it is like to depend entirely on the sun for our light.

There is, however, a significant population in the heart of the United States, (and only a 3-and-a-half-hour drive from the comfort of my home in Albuquerque,) that live their lives with only the sun to light the way. That is the Navajo Nation.

The reservation, bigger than the state of West Virginia, sprawls across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. It’s a harsh, beautiful land marked by extremes of temperature, sun, wind, and dryness. 

Many Navajo — Diné in their own language — have lived in these rural areas for generations, as the land is passed from grandmother to granddaughter.

Although they are blessed with big skies and desert vistas, these remote locations are often far from services and paved roads. 

According to a 2016 assessment, about 16,000 Navajo homes don’t have access to electricity. Nearly a third have no running water, and more than half lack kitchen and toilet facilities. 

Many Navajo are caught in isolated pockets of land, which are called The Checkerboard.  Electric lines traverse the land on the horizon, and many hogans are wired and ready for electrical power, but with all of the permissions and work required by the utility, it would cost from $30,000-$80,000 to connect to the power. 

Due to the remote nature of many homes, children often travel by school bus for multiple hours every day. Before having light in their home, all homework had to be completed on the bus, or by candlelight or kerosene lantern.

The Navajo Solar Lighting project is an effort that bring solar lights to at-risk populations on the reservation, including elders over 70 years old and disabled tribal members.

A solar light is a simple thing: just a small panel the size of a baking sheet, which mounts onto a roof with a pole. A wire runs from the panel into the house, where up to three rechargeable lights hang from hooks on the ceiling. To turn on the lights, Domingo simply has to touch a button.

Insert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyTrZdCLvI8

To use the light as a flashlight for going outside at night, a recipient simply unhooks it. A fully charged lamp offers dim light for 75 hours or bright light for 7½ before needing to be recharged. They’ll also be able to use the flashlights to go the outhouse at night, a comforting prospect considering the bears and mountain lions that live nearby. 

To see a house go from kerosene to solar … it’s life-changing. No longer do they have a proclivity for upper respiratory infections because of the soot. 

Joe Williams

It seems a simple thing. The whole setup consists of just one, two, or three hanging lights and a cell phone charger, with a small solar panel to power it. A solar light kit costs a little more than $300 each.

The impact this has on the people living in the home, however, is huge. Our recipients report better health, improved grades, improved finances and generally happier lives.

Elderly recipients report that they fall less when there is light to see where they are going at night. Before receiving the lights, many recipients relied on kerosene lanterns or candles, significantly reducing air quality in the home.

The beneficiaries are largely elders, the disabled, and other at-risk individuals and families.

The lights are a real plus for them. They use them for basic necessities. They can stay up longer, play cards, read books. Their grandkids can do their homework. The lights provide more time in the evenings for elders to practice and pass on long-held traditions, such as weaving, to their families. 

One mother in Sanostee explained that she normally sent her daughter to her grandparents to complete her homework since they had power. She is happy that she will see her daughter more and be able to supervise the homework.

A Note from Joe Williams:

Greetings to our friends at Rotary E club of the state of Jefferson, Thank you again for your continued support.

We have surpassed installation of solar lights in 220 homes and with $89,000 raised through your efforts, our work continues.

From a humble beginning in 2012, our credo “people are served, lives are brightened” now means something.

Our little band of “hands on” volunteers has shown 1.2 million of our fellow Rotarians that a partnership of terra and ether clubs can effectively bring positive change to those in need.

After a hard day of work, there was time for some fellowship at the Toadlena Trading Post where Wes Studi (of Last of the Mohicans, and Joe Leaphorn fame) and his band were playing.

October 2018

By John Allman, Rotary eCub of the State of Jefferson

Recently, I had the privilege of working on my third solar light installation project on the Navajo Nation.  I joined Joe Williams, Nancy Lauro from the Durango Daybreak Club, as well as Roger Allen and Molly McCallum. My brother Bill flew in from Richmond, VA to work with us as well. 

Our group met at the Sanostee Chapterhouse and after an evening of fellowship Friday night with a refreshing dinner of frybread and mutton stew, we prepared ourselves for a busy Saturday of service.

We began Saturday morning by preparing the tools we would need and fashioning connectors and separating the solar light kits. 

Once we had all of gear ready we split into two teams of three each and set out for some of the more rural areas of the Navajo Nation. We were able to complete four installations Saturday morning before we broke for lunch. After lunch both teams worked together on a more complicated home before splitting once more. Later that afternoon, two more homes were provided solar lighting before we had to call it a day.

In all, we completed seven installations. We would have made it eight, but one recipient was not available when we arrived, and it was too late in the day to safely complete that installation. The work we did accomplish accounted for over $1,800 in solar light kits.

We are going to be scheduling a spring installation for the middle of June 2019. I will keep you updated as we finalize plans and would challenge you to make plans to join us. Everyone who has participated has come away feeling that they had a life-changing experience. Here is a chance to provide Club Service at a reasonable cost, without passports and travelling great distances. As you can see from the photos below, ours were certainly not the only lives changed by a few hours work.