FLAP Videos from a Navajo Reservation

Editor’s note: For more on the FLAP off-grid solar project, see the PopTech FLAP page.

One might think of living at the “base of the pyramid” as an unimaginably difficult situation confined to those in the developing world, but there are plenty of people living at the base right here in the United States in the 21st century—people like Pat Boone.

I met Pat Boone just outside of a ceremony his community was holding in order to heal his brother’s abdominal pains after traditional medicine failed to provide relief. Pat is a tiny man with laughing eyes that are partially blind, leaving him unaware that his white shirt was caked with the dust that his boots and the wind had stirred up.

“Grandpa” as we were told we could call him, invited us to interview him in his home – a small hogan with a dirt floor, a kerosene lamp, and an outdoor latrine, located twenty-five miles down a cracked and rutted dirt road.

Pat lives in the Cameron chapter on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona, where he cares for his elderly sister and looks after his sheep and his goats. Many elders here, like Pat and his sister, are living in poverty.


There is an important distinction between those living at the base of the pyramid in the United States and those in the developing world: not far from where Pat Boone lives, there are people with running water, electricity and indoor plumbing, all fixtures which he would consider unthinkable luxuries.


Pat was one of many home visits my colleague Cordelia and I made this past Fall on a Navajo reservation to test the FLAP solar bag (we have also tested it in Haiti and Africa). With introductions from PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Emily Pilloton and Heather Fleming, Cordelia and I traveled the reservation landscape, seeing miles of land in all directions dotted with hogans belonging to Navajo elders who, like Pat Boone, cling to tradition while striving to make a living. Cordelia was here to see how the FLAP project might benefit this community, and I was here to document the fieldwork.

Rather than waiting for power to come to those without it, the FLAP project distributes power where and when people need it, although the bag sometimes requires explanation—our taxi driver Gater wanted to know immediately what it was:

Once explained, everyone finds their own uses for the bag. We met Clay Bigman on one of our home visits a few days before his 90th birthday, and this former WWII Navajo Code Talker (he transmitted messages by phone and radio in his native language, a code that the Japanese never broke) was hoping for a chocolate cake:

Leena’s son had just moved off the reservation to find work. She now lives alone, and more than anything she wants a security light. Our local guide, Dorothy Lee, felt that the FLAP bag would be useful to her in the meantime:

Kee Cody was sent to the Phoenix Indian School, a Federal boarding school originally founded in 1891 to assimilate Native American children through education. He graduated in 1955, and the school closed thirty-five years later, in 1990:

Huge shout out to the extremely talented and generous folks at lullatone.com for donating music to the project.

For more about the FLAP project on the reservation please see Cordelia’s blog post on Fast Company.

And if you know of communities in need of portable light and would like to help us get prototypes into their hands, please email Cordelia at [her name] at PopTech.org.

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