Dr. Laura Stachel’s credo is,” No woman should die giving life. Our vision is a world where every mother and newborn can survive childbirth in well-lit health clinics, and all health workers have the power to save lives.”
After a long career as an obstetrician-gynecologist, a trip to Northern Nigeria drove Dr. Laura Stachel to find a way to bring life-sustaining electricity to maternity wards in underserved hospitals in Africa, Asia and South America – and the solution comes…in a suitcase.
A New Light Dawns
A diagnosis of spinal disk disease had changed the arc of Stachel’s career from private practice to a career in public health.
But it was a trip to Northern Nigeria that changed the arc of her life. “While observing medical care in a state hospital, I was stunned to see that the hospital was without light for 12 or more hours a day,” she recalls. “The delivery room in a state hospital had four metal beds without mattresses, pillows, or linen. There were no electronic fetal monitors, bright lights, or ultrasound machines. And without electricity, health providers couldn’t use much of the equipment in the hospital.”
Dr. Stachel’s experience in Nigeria was a turning point. Witnessing a woman with eclampsia fighting for her life in pitch darkness left a profound impact on her. “I wondered why I was in Nigeria, bearing witness to this scene. And I thought, ‘Maybe I can be a voice for women who are dying in silence.”
She later learned that there are more than 100,000 health facilities in the global south that lack reliable electricity or have no electricity at all.
Solar Powered Hope
Stachel worked with her husband, solar innovator Hal Aronson, to design and deliver compact solar electric kits to last-mile health centers…kits that could include medical-surgical lights, phone charging, and rechargeable medical devices.
Now, Dr. Laura Stachel, Co-Founder and Executive Director at We Care Solar—leads an organization that designs, produces, and delivers We Care Solar Suitcases® to last-mile health facilities around the world. Each Suitcase includes medical-surgical lights, phone charging, and rechargeable medical devices – enabling midwives and doctors to provide timely and effective maternal and newborn care.
The We Care Solar Suitcases® have enabled health workers, mothers and newborns to enjoy safe childbirth in nearly 50 countries across Africa, Asia, and South America.
Spreading The Light
We Care Solar evolved from a small group of volunteers making Solar Suitcases by hand to an international, award-winning NGO.
In 2017, they launched the “Light Every Birth” initiative rallying governments, UN agencies, and international NGOs to equip every public health facility with clean energy for safe deliveries. To date, the organization has equipped 8,500 health facilities with life-saving lights, serving more than 14 million mothers and newborns with national programs in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria.
Dr. Stachel emphasized the importance of these partnerships, stating, “We work closely with government agencies and cultivate a network of experienced regional partners. These partners help us to identify health facilities in need, understand how we can complement existing health programs, and navigate both the difficult terrain and weather conditions.”
Lighting the Future
Dr. Stachel’s vision now aspires to ensure that every woman has access to a safe delivery by 2030. She invites people of all ages to join their mission and help eradicate energy poverty in health facilities. The recent recognition of Dr. Stachel with the 2024 AARP Purpose Prize is a testament to her unwavering dedication. “It is an exceptional prize for many reasons. Personally, I am moved because the AARP Purpose Prize recognizes that innovation has no age limits. Older adults can help solve global problems, putting their talents to use in unexpected ways.”
NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black writer, holds a Master’s in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and Bachelor’s in Visual Advertising from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been published in Eater, The Cincinnati Review, and others. Learn more at nabeelawashington.com.