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Solar-Powered Backpacks Bring Portable Light To South African Schoolchildren

How one group turned recycled materials into hope, providing much needed light for studying.

This new backpack could change lives for hundreds of South African schoolchildren.

American schoolchildren often complain about how much homework they’re forced to do. In low income communities in South Africa, however, many children don’t even have the luxury of reliable sources of light. Besides having to deal with the negative health effects of kerosene lamps, many who live in rough neighborhoods often have to walk through poorly-lit roads to get home from school, leaving them open to car fatalities and other hazards. To combat both issues, Rethaka, a Rustenberg-based, “all-women” company that focuses on sustainable solutions for poverty-stricken communities, has created the solar-powered, light-emitting, Repurpose Schoolbag.


Many children currently have to use dangerous kerosene lamps to study at night.

The bag, when left to charge during the day, can provide up to 12 hours of sunshine via a detachable solar light. When the child returns from school they can remove the solar light from the bag and screw it onto a standard glass jar, creating a practical lamp that can be brought anywhere. According to Design Indaba, “The solar light means children can do their homework, even during power cuts, without breathing the fumes or risking the fires often caused by kerosene lamps.”

The project uses only sustainable materials.

Each bag has been made using a durable, eco-friendly, and waterproof material composed of recycled plastic bags. The backpacks also come paneled with reflective fabric, which ensures visibility during evening commutes—something desperately needed, as it’s estimated that on average three children die on South African roads every day.

To learn more about the project, and to support, click here.