Berkeley hero saves lives with light

Founder of We Care Solar Laura Stachel named 2013 CNN Hero

Laura Stachel/Courtesy

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Founder of the Berkeley-based nonprofit We Care Solar Laura Stachel was named a 2013 CNN Hero last week for her work in finding electrical solutions for health care clinics in impoverished areas.

Stachel began her work in 2008 after a trip to Nigeria, where she witnessed how health care facilities struggled to function without a reliable source of electricity. Recognizing the need for a solution, Stachel and her husband, Hal Aronson, developed the We Care Solar Suitcase — a portable solar electric system about the size of a suitcase.

The contents of the We Care Solar Suitcase include medical lights, a cellphone charger, a battery charger, solar panels and a battery.

Since We Care Solar’s inception, UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies has sponsored Stachel, providing her with funding to continue developing her ideas.

“What sets Laura apart is her passion and commitment to helping and to promoting the work she does,” said Phillip Denny, chief administrative officer for the Blum Center. “She has incredible passion, and it’s nice to see CNN and others recognize that and to see the impact of the solar suitcase.”

Since its first pilot test, We Care Solar has provided nearly 250 solar suitcases to facilities in more than 20 countries. Soon, Stachel said, the organization will also include laptops in its suitcases.

“Initially, we identified (the clinics) on our own, but once word got out, people have been coming to us,” Stachel said.

An OB/GYN doctor by profession, Stachel loved her work delivering children but feels now that her endeavors in delivering light are much more important.

“This feels like it’s having more impact on the world,” Stachel said. “It feels like it may actually transform health clinics and the people in them, and that is very fulfilling.”

The lights have not only served to increase the success rate of deliveries but have also served to ward off potential burglars, said Jacqueline Cutts, a nonprofit CEO who nominated Stachel.

“(Health workers) are no longer afraid to go to work at night,” Stachel said. “They’re more confident, they’re no longer fighting over candles or kerosene lamps. They’re no longer postponing procedures.”

Not dwelling on their victories, Stachel and We Care Solar are working on getting solar suitcases to more locations globally, making it easier for women around the world to deliver children.

“I saw women in labor silently, not getting the attention they needed,” Stachel said. “I thought maybe I can be the voice for these women.”

Contact Tara Hurley at [email protected].