University volunteers hope to light up Nepal with home-made bulbs

Taipei, May 16 (CNA) A volunteer group from National Tsing Hua University said Wednesday that it has found a way to produce a "solar-powered lightbulb" that it plans to use to help impoverished people in Nepal. Chiang Yi-che, a graduate student of the university's Institute of Power Mechanical Engineering, noted that power shortages are a serious problem in the landlocked South Asian country and said he and his classmates decided to come up with a way to help the people there. "We searched on the Internet for information we could use and we found that people in the Philippines are using discarded PET bottles to make a kind of solar lightbulb, which is not only very cheap but also uses no energy and is environmentally friendly," Chiang said. "We'll experiment with the technique in one household and if it proves to be successful, we want to promote it on a bigger scale next year," he said. The lights are made by simply filling a PET bottle with water, with a little bleach added to inhibit algae from forming. The bottle is then placed half-in, half-out of a hole cut in the roof of a dwelling and fixed in place, so that refracted sunlight is projected into the room below. The group was established in 2007 and travels to Nepal every year, where it works with volunteer doctors to disseminate hygiene information. It has enjoyed success in this area, particularly in a case several years ago, when they found that women in the areas in which they were working were prone to infections. The team's efforts to promote the use of sanitary napkins through a publicity campaign won praise from the authorities. The volunteers have also traveled to remote regions of Tanzania, Belize and Malaysia to help poor people there. This year, they have so far managed to solicit solar power panels for Belize, where they plan to build simple power-generation systems, set up computer classrooms and encourage students to pursue further education. In addition, the group's Malaysian subsidiary, which was formed earlier this year, hopes to carry out work to preserve the historical, cultural and educational resources of the Chinese community in the Southeast Asian country. It is already engaged in recording the development of Taiwanese communities there in a bid to introduce the features of Taiwanese society and promote bilateral exchanges between Taiwan and Malaysia. (By Huang Yen-yu and Lilian Wu)