GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - In Kenya, lighting homes with kerosene is a common, albeit expensive and hazardous practice, 17-year old Ellen Atkinson learned at a Youth World Leadership Congress she attended last year in Chicago.
In Third World countries, kerosene is a major source of indoor pollution, causes eye strain and burns, and breathing its fumes kills more people annually than malaria, Atkinson found. The Grand Junction High School senior returned home from that conference fired up to find a better way for people to light their homes.
Atkinson rallied fellow students from Grand Junction, Fruita Monument and Palisade high schools to raise money by serving a solar-lit, Kenyan-style dinner at The Art Center.
"We raised over $9,300 (last year)," Atkinson said, which bought 467 solar lamps for Kisumu County in Kenya.
This year, the program has expanded to help those in need in India, and again, local students are planning a solar-lit dinner at The Art Center. Like last year, there will be an educational program and silent auction at the event. Proceeds from the Indian-fare dinner will go toward purchasing solar lamps for people in India.
The dinner will be held 6 p.m. March 8-9.
Courtlyn Carpenter, a Fruita Monument High School senior, is heading up the student food committee who will do most of the cooking. The menu includes Indian cucumber salad, Indian dal over rice (mostly lentils and vegetables - "very yummy," she said), three types of Indian cookies (ginger, almond and chocolate coconut), chai tea and coffee. The Nepal Restaurant is supplying naan bread for the dinner.
This year's project has grown to include more student involvement - many from the schools' national honor societies, Kiwanis key clubs, as well as individuals not associated with any clubs, Atkinson said.
"There are so many people involved this year on so many levels," Atkinson said. "It's grown beyond the scope of my imagination.
"That's what is really exciting about this project. We're hoping to broaden the base here and get more people involved and learn about the issue of lighting in developing countries. We want an educational program here as well."
A $20 ticket to the dinner buys one solar light. All proceeds from the dinner and silent auction will go toward purchasing the solar lamps.
Solar lamps, like the ones that will be sent to India, will light up the dining area, and will also be sold by auction.
"Our mission is to send lights to entrepreneurs who are living off the grid, so they are empowered to start their own grassroots businesses," Atkinson said. "Additionally, it eliminates dependency on unhealthy and expensive kerosene."
Last year's inaugural event sold out both nights, so people who wish to attend should purchase tickets in advance by calling Jessica at 970-640-6313, or visiting Nepal Restaurant, 356 Main St.
Walk-ins will be accepted only if the event has not already sold out, Atkinson said.