Your Favorite Furniture Store Is Making Life Safer for Thousands of Refugees

Ikea is partnering with the United Nations to light up refugee camps with solar lanterns.

A refugee mother and child in Kobe refugee camp, Ethiopia. (Photo: Ikea Foundation)

Feb 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Once the sun sets over Jordan’s Al Azraq refugee camp, the children there are engulfed in total darkness.

Lack of electricity is a big problem for the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee dangerous conditions in Syria and seek safety in neighboring countries. Life in the camp is safer, but the residents can barely see two feet in front of them come nighttime. The simplest of tasks, such as going to the bathroom or returning to a tent, leave occupants—especially women and young girls—vulnerable to assault.

Solar-powered light sources offer a simple and environmentally friendly solution that greatly improves the quality of life for the nearly 13 million people living in camps around the world. And your favorite furniture superstore is doing its part to bring these renewable energy sources to facilities in Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Jordan.

This is the second year Ikea is running its two-month campaign, Brighter Lives for Refugees, which helps fund the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. For every LED light bulb purchased at 300 participating locations across 40 countries through March 28, the Ikea Foundation will donate one euro to UNHCR. The funds will be used to purchase renewable lighting systems such as solar-powered streetlights and lanterns.

Last year’s efforts brought in $10.6 million, helping an estimated 11,000 Syrian refugees at Al Azraq, The Guardian reported.

Sustainable light breathes new life into these communities. During scorching days when temperatures can reach up to 115 degrees in Al Azraq, the lanterns are left outdoors to collect energy from the sun. In the evenings, children are able to study and complete homework assignments, adults can spend time together socializing, and walking out to grab a drink of water is no longer a treacherous endeavor. The lanterns have a bonus feature, too: They can serve as cell phone chargers while providing light.

Ikea isn’t the only corporation sending solar lights to the 1.3 billion people around the world living without electricity. PepsiCo and Panasonic are also lending a hand. PepsiCo’s Liter of Light program transformed empty plastic bottles into portable torches by attaching solar panels to LED lights, and the company has installed 190,000 bottle lights in areas of the Philippines hit by 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan. And to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Panasonic plans to donate 100,000 solar lanterns to off-grid communities by 2018.

So the next time you’re in Ikea, be sure to stop by the lighting department for a few LED bulbs. That’s, of course, after you’re lured into buying a remarkably inexpensive dresser that will inevitably take you the next 24 hours to assemble.