For over ten years, my monthly community song circle has supported the work of Fifty Lanterns International, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that brings solar power to people in the developing world. We call the gatherings “Singing in the Light” for that very purpose. (And we like the double entendre….)
When the singers arrive, they put money in a basket at the door. All of the funds go to the cause. The church where we meet (Hennepin Avenue United Methodist, Minneapolis) donates the space and I donate my time. In the past months each gathering has included over 60 singers of all ages and musical abilities. We sing just for the joy of it in the oral tradition. We raise anywhere from $250 to $500 each time we meet. Once in awhile someone writes a big check to support the work.
At the beginning of every gathering, I mention that our singing together that afternoon is going to have a direct and positive effect on specific people far away. We sing for our own illumination, for that of our community, and for strangers we’ll never meet. The awareness that what we are doing is having a direct benefit on people’s lives enriches our experience.
Over the years our singing has helped fund diverse projects that bring light and power (literally and metaphorically) to
War widows and their children in Afghanistan
Health care professionals in rural India
Earthquake survivors in Pakistan, Haiti, and Kashmir
Midwives in rural Honduras
Coffee farmers in Rwanda
More recently the work has focused on providing larger solar installations for structures where there is no electric power available. One Fifty Lanterns project installed solar power at a Rwandan health care clinic that provided services for 20,000 refugees.
In a recent conversation with Fifty Lanterns founder, Linda Cullen, she told me about their current project – providing solar power for a fast-growing school for Maasai girls in Tanzania.
These girls are mostly from rural villages where they are often expected to forego education for early marriage. The founder of the school, Minnesotan Deb Pangrel, works closely with the girls’ parents to advocate for education. A number of the students feel compelled run away from their villages in order to escape forced marriage and further their education. The school has grown quickly and is currently adding another building and a science lab. Learn more about the school here: http://www.imagetanzania.org
Fifty Lanterns is in a transition now after years of good work. Linda has decided to focus all future donations on the school in Tanzania and to sunset the non-profit over the coming year. She is still passionate about the work, but has found that the care and feeding of a nonprofit is not her calling.
She and her husband, Mike Gallagher, recently completed a beautiful solar-powered house north of the Twin Cities. They aptly named it Peacefield Farm. Plans are afoot to host a Singing in the Light gathering there sometime this summer.
It will be a joy to bring song to our friend and “shero” in gratitude for her beautiful work in lighting up the world.