In central Africa, there’s an orphanage that is a last refuge for hundreds of children. For kids whose parents have died — many of them from AIDS — the Kaliro School and Orphanage is a place where they can grow and thrive, safe from the hazards all around them. It’s typical of many such institutions in Africa, which suffer from a lack of funding, and are taking care of many more children than they can handle.

But at least students and residents of the orphanage no longer have to sit in the dark at night. By installing Israeli-developed solar energy systems, Innovation: Africa has brought light to not only the 500 children of the Kaliro School, but to hundreds of thousands of others as well. The project is unique in Africa and it recently won a top award from the United Nations.

Located miles away from the electrical cables — the children of the Kaliro School hail from dozens of remote farming villages, far from any city — the orphanage had an energy problem. Without electricity (the region has none), the only way to light up the rooms at night was with kerosene gas or candles. But those methods are dangerous, especially for kids; the former could cause lung diseases while the latter could easily start a disastrous fire. Besides, the dim light was ruining the children’s vision.

Thus, the Kaliro School placed a ban on artificial light sources and became a sunrise to sunset facility. Dinner was served, and the children prepared for bed, before the sun went down. For kids already traumatized, the prospect of facing the night alone, without any light, was frightening but unavoidable, because the facility lacked the funds to install its own generators.

Enter Innovation: Africa, an Israeli organization that specializes in bringing power to the power-less in Africa. The group set up a solar energy system for the Kaliro School, which gave the kids not only the gift of light, but that of time as well; with the extra hours of light, the school was able to run evening programs, giving children greater opportunities to learn how to read and write.

It was just another day at the office for Sivan Ya’ari, founder and president of Innovation: Africa, which for the past five years has been bringing not only solar power, but also clean water, food and medical care to more than 500,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

“Our mission is to bring to African villages innovative technologies developed and used in Israel,” said Ya’ari. “And we are not only helping Africa but helping Israel by helping the Israeli economy and Israel’s image.”

Besides light, the Innovation: Africa projects provide 20,000 liters of clean water a day (thanks to the solar water pumps they have installed), and drip irrigation systems provide a source of food and income for farmers and their families. Solar energy units provide not only light for schools, but refrigeration for hospitals, which for the first time can store medicines safely. Thanks to those solar-powered refrigerators, over 300,000 people have been able to receive vaccines for diseases rampant in the African interior, where medical care is almost nonexistent.

Earlier this month, the United Nations held in Nairobi its sixth annual Global South-South Development Expo on green initiatives, which had as its purpose the harnessing of green technology to better the lives of Africans. Notable attendees included the president of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Also present was Ya’ari, who accepted the UN’s prestigious Innovation Award for bringing Israeli solar technology to power rural African schools, medical clinics and water pumping systems.

“I am proud to attend this conference as part of the Israeli delegation,” said Yaari, “and honored to accept this award in recognition of our efforts these last five years.”

Speaking at the event, Gil Haskel, the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, said that “Innovation: Africa is a brilliant concept of combining Israeli creative energy and innovative spirit, with the Jewish concept of ‘Tikun Olam’ and compassion. Together these characteristics are making a significant difference for so many lives in rural Africa, and building eternal bridges of friendship between Jews, Israelis and Africans.”