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Better light a candle than curse the darkness | Southern province, Zambia

Hannukah season is here! If you're not familiar,

let me cynically sum it up for you... Like most Jewish holidays, Hannukah is a celebration that commemorates a terrible enemy who tried to kill the Jewish people and failed.

Now, let's eat together...



Although I grew up in Israel with a healthy Jewish DNA, holidays never did that to me. Sometimes they pass under my nose without even noticing. But Hanukkah has an element that I am interested in and deal with a lot in my work - Light.

For eight days, Jewish children and their families worldwide light candles, sing songs, eat greasy food, and spin small dreidels which represent ''A great miracle (that) happened there.'' - A miracle of a little jug of oil that was enough to light the lamp for one day but instead lasted eight days.


While Jewish children worldwide learn their history through beautiful irrelevant tales, millions of people today are praying for an ancient miracle like that to appear in their lives.




It was my first time in Zambia, a country known for its spectacular scenery, safaris, and its famous world wonder - Victoria Falls. While these attract visitors and tourists regularly,

I'm here for a different reason.


It’s six o'clock in the evening, magnificent rain clouds begin to roll in to the background compelling me to set up my drone quickly before the landscape would be engulfed in darkness.



I'm in the rural Southern Province of Zambia, not far from Livingstone,

a rich tourist hub near Victoria Falls.


However, I'm here to take a look behind the exotic African brochure, where real lives takes places. In the case of rural Zambia - the lives of millions who are living without electricity.



I can't imagine living without power.

Without light? Internet? Phone charger? Refrigerator? Computer?

Electricity has become such a basic and obvious resource that we can never return to live without it. And yet millions do.



If you're into numbers, the percentage of people with access to electricity has been steadily increasing. While in 1990, around 71% of the world's population was connected to power, in 2016, more than 87% of the world’s population had access to electricity.




With that being said, I know that numbers are misleading.

Numbers do not reflect the pain that those on the unlucky side of the statistics feel. Statistics themselves aren’t reflective of people, emotions, or the lives they lead.

I get minor glimses of it every time I travel.


Tonight I am on my way to observe the soft spot of the issue. What does it mean to live without power when you need help or medical treatment, or to give birth...



The soundtrack of mosquitoes buzzing in the background grows.

Scorpions and snakes are familiar guests here. It's only 7:30 pm and already feels like midnight.


I'm in a local, rural clinic, and the scenario is not one of a simple power cut.

M' will give birth here tonight in this powerless clinic without light, without a fridge to store vaccines or medicine. She's praying for a safe birth to her second child and rightly so -Every little complication here become enormous when having to treat it in the dark.



Next to her is George, a 26-year-old midwife who was sent here from the big city two years ago. I asked him about the difficulties he encounters with working during the night and George did not spare the details.


We talked about the dangers of being exposed to wildlife, and the medical complexities that arise during a procedure. Lots of births take place at night and women have to walk miles to the clinic while in labor. They stay here until they give birth, which can sometimes take days.



George tells me he charge his mobile device with the only car around during his lunch break. He does this so that during delivery he can hold the flashlight of his mobile phone between his teeth, praying he'll have enough battery if any complications arise.



Birth complications are a substantial factor in infant mortality rate.

However, there is no complexity that George hasn't seen before or can't handle.

Instead, it is having no light that ties his hands and spirit from doing his job.




What about education?

life without power affects every aspect of life, not only for those in the medical field.

From a different angle, I’m heading to a primary school to witness how education occurs in darkness.



As I arrived at Quora school, I noticed little lights peeking out of the classroom windows. The national exam period is fast approaching, hence boys and girls are studying and dedicating their evenings to level-up their success.


As I stepped into the dark classroom, I couldn’t not notice that it was perfectly silent.

I was in awe of the atmosphere that was created by this large group of children, wanting to succeed and acquire quality education.



The teacher has not yet arrived, but the students were immersed in their books.

My entrance into the classroom took the students by surprise; they glanced at me and started whispering.


I introduced myself and asked that they try to ignore me as much as possible - I was hoping to preserve the tangible atmosphere I experienced moments ago and translate them through the lens.


The students cooperated and it didn't take them long to return to their books.



I didn't take into account the technical difficulty of photographing without light.

This is not an area I am experienced with. How do you document darkness?


After quite a few attempts with terrible results, I raised my head to the room and recognized something quite interesting. The little light of the candle obliged the students to hold themselves as almost frozen in their spots since each micro-movement created a shadow over their books or their neighbour’s books.



Since the students were already in place, I stabilized my camera and attached it to the tripod. (In order to capture sharp and detailed photographs in ‘hard’ light conditions, stability is a key. Otherwise, the photographs can turn blurry and faded.)


Happy to figure this out I managed to illustrate what was really going on in front of my eyes, using prolonged exposure, without artificial flashes.


The teacher entered the classroom and started teaching.

The students were attentive and participated intently. They appear to be thirsty for the knowledge they were receiving. Everything was done in almost complete darkness.



As a spoiled western kid who didn't even graduate, they inspired me.


Unlike the medical angle where delivery must take place with or without light, these kids don't have to learn in the dark. They choose to.



These students are taking proactive action about their future with the reality was given to them. They do not ignore the fact that there is no electricity, they overcome it. Some will be the first in their family to graduate.


Ever since I was exposed to the subject of electricity and Light, the essence of Hanukkah took on additional meanings: In every candle I light, I give thanks for the miracle called Electricity, Power, Light... which saves us every day from situations we do not even think about. In each candle, I also remember the brave people I met during these dark nights and hope their miracle is closer than ever.



Happy Hannukah,

Lior