Dateline meets Illac Diaz, whose simple invention is bringing light into the dark lives of thousands of poor in the Philippines.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 21:28

In the slums of Manila in the Philippines, one man has a simple idea for bringing light into the dark lives of thousands of poor.

In makeshift houses that are often windowless, Illac Diaz pokes a plastic bottle filled with water through a specially-cut hole in the roof to gather natural light from outside and to refract it into the darkened rooms below.

His idea has become so popular, there's now a production line going at a local prison, but it's not his only innovation.

His My Shelter Foundation has also created entire buildings from recycled bottles and used them for hydroponic gardening.

David Brill turns the spotlight on Illac Diaz to profile this man from a wealthy background, who's on a mission to improve life for the poor around the world.

WATCH - Click to see David's report.

HOW TO MAKE A BOTTLE LIGHT - Find out how to make a bottle light by watching My Shelter Foundation's video.

AFTER RIO - Replay last week's Dateline story looking at the failure of the Rio environmental summit and whether people power is the way forward for tackling climate change.

Photo (left): Getty

How To Make A Bottle Light

Watch the My Shelter Foundation video showing how to make a bottle light.



For a number of years now Dateline has sought to bring you stories from the cutting edge of the debate about sustainable living. For example, we have covered the development of the electric car, renewable energy initiatives in Europe, and of course, last week's story about acting locally when global negotiations break down. Tonight, we meet a green entrepreneur with an idea so simple, you wonder why no-one has thought of it before. Not only that, it could change the lives of millions of people around the world. David Brill has more.

REPORTER: David Brill

Illac Diaz wants to start a revolution. A revolution that he hopes will take over the world.

ILLAC DIAZ, MY SHELTER FOUNDATION: It's going to be a revolution from the bottom up and I think that's what makes this whole thing exciting.

He developed an idea that would bring some light into people's houses and their lives. The concept is simple - cut a hole in a piece of galvanised sheeting, slide a used, but cleaned, Coke bottle through the hole. Seal it. Fill the bottle with clean water, add a touch of bleach to keep the water clear, and you have a light during the day.

ILLAC DIAZ: We started with one man, one carpenter, one bottle, one house and then he was able to make it for 10,000 houses. We hit 200,000 houses but what we want to do is really showcase that in a year's time you can grow from nothing to basically impacting the world.

You know, the three rules, that everything is there already, so no more importation. You don't have to wait for funds. Second, is simple carpentry tools so you can bring it basically in one hand of tool bags. The third one is the business. Those are the three rules we follow, and that way the solar lights can be applicable anywhere in the world without much difficulty.

This isn't Illac's first venture into plastic bottles. With a non-profit foundation he started called My Shelter, he's used them to build houses, school classrooms and clinics. Illac Diaz looks quite at home among the sprawling shanties of Manilla but he comes from a privileged background. Exceptional at school, he earned a scholarship to MIT and Harvard University in the United States, where he graduated with a Masters in Political Administration. In 2008, the World Economic Forum in Geneva, named Illac, a young global leader. He's a driven man.

REPORTER: So you're going to put a light up here in the ceiling?

ILLAC DIAZ: So if you close it...


ILLAC DIAZ: The reason why a lot of the houses don't have windows is because first of all these are passage ways, so when you have a passage way, you usually don't like your windows open. Second, it's also the houses are next to each other and piled on top of each other, so most people - even if you are in a tropical country - don't have lights.

REPORTER: They are up on the roof are they?


ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): All right, we'll just leave it like that.

REPORTER: That makes a bit of a difference, doesn't it?

ILLAC DIAZ: You will see it with the light, it bends so it gets all the sides.


ILLAC DIAZ: Even in the rain, you can still, you know, the light is still pretty good.

REPORTER: What are you going to show me here?

ILLAC DIAZ: I'm going to show you very quickly, it's a bit dark, but I want to show you a kitchen that's lit up by solar lights.

Most of the domestic chores are done in a very dark corner of the house where they have to put on light or no light at all, because light is very expensive. You will see over here how... We've lit up this kitchen.

REPORTER: Oh yes... These are all just water bottles?

ILLAC DIAZ: Yes. You can see that their main light is turned off. It's bright enough to cook for the family, to wash the clothes and one of the biggest areas where we actually do work is, if you come in here, is most toilets are actually pretty dark. So here you have a toilet that's completely lit. It's bright. And so, you know, you don't have to trip on things and so one of the places that the solar light is doing lots of improvement is in the toilets and especially in places where people cook.

You can see how bright it is. You can see the shadows. You will never want to go back into the darkness again and that is what we want people to do. We want to brighten up people's lives and it just changes the whole dynamics of the family.

Illac wants to show me how used plastic bottles can light up a big area so he's taking me to church.

ILLAC DIAZ: You know, it's kind of rainy outside, but still, this used to be a very dark area. It was darker when with this kind of rain. You can see that the whole place is completely lit by solar bulbs.

ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): How is the light that we installed here?

WOMAN (Translation): It's alright.

ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): Is it effective?

WOMAN (Translation): Yes.

ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): What has people's reaction been?

WOMAN (Translation): There was this one church goer who asked "œDon't you turn off that light?" We said "œNo, it's not a light bulb." She said "œYou are wasting power - it has been on for a while." "œIt's not a light bulb. It was just installed." "œIt's just like a light bulb."

ILLAC DIAZ: We have a list of about 20 other churches that we're about to do, but you could see how fast these things go. If we just, you know, focus on it, we could finish it in the next couple of months. Definitely, we can bring more spirit of the light over.

Now he wants to show me a bottle light production line that has been established in the local jail.

ILLAC DIAZ: We have a one o'clock to get David in the jail and not let him out. I hear there are lots of people that don't want him out. You are going to see how we produce large scale numbers of solar bulbs for mayors.

REPORTER: Solar bulbs for mayors?

ILLAC DIAZ: Right. Sometimes they order 5,000 or more. What you saw with mandami is small scale production. They can do maybe 10-20 every week. Times the mayors would like large-scale installations, and so we have it done over here. So you would see how they're made very cleanly. This is going to the communities. They are really trying to make a good job out of this. Very nice. I mean, they do two or three seals to make sure that this does not leak in the houses.

REPORTER: And it's all made in the jail?


I would like to introduce you to the head of can production. Please.

FOREMAN: We are right now in the process of conceptualising a possible after-care program or after detention program. The people who made all the solar powered bulbs here can be involved in the installation process outside in the community. That will give our residents here a choice the moment they go back to the mainstream of society.

ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): Actually, what you did was right because we wasted many bottles. They have different diameters, so now we are copying you. You have the right one.

FOREMAN: The best part of it is, number one, their skills are being honed in so far as the proper production of the solar bulb is concerned. Number two, the essence of discipline is being instilled to these people. So, in preparation for their return to the mainstream society, then these people are being reformed, so to speak.

ILLAC DIAZ (Translation): When you are free, will you make these at home?

INMATE (Translation): Yes, I will make these at home. They'll light our home during the day.

ILLAC DIAZ: Who knows poverty more than us? We live in it, we see it every day. We know what works and we know what does not work. Why do we always have to follow systems and programs that are just implemented here, just because they think it is the best thing for us. That will change more people's lives than charities that just come in, help one community and once the money disappears, they go away forever, or, you know, or medical missions that come in for, you know, a couple of days and you don't see them again for next year, or voluntary missions.

The point is, we cannot approach such a huge problem by waiting for people to come and help us. What we have to show is we have unique solutions here. We can show people, we can show the world, that maybe we have something better than, you know, they ever have given us.

YALDA HAKIM: David Brill in Manila with Illac Diaz. There's been heavy loss in life in the Philippines in recent days due to bad weather. Illac tells us his solar light is useful in these situations because thousands suffer electricity cuts. If you want to know how to make a bottle light for yourself, we've included his step by step video on the website.







Original music composed by

7th August 2012