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Lights on: Powering Empowerment with @NavajoMylo
For photographer Mylo Fowler, light is more than just his medium—it's his mission.
Fowler has worked for years to bring solar power—and light—to hundreds of families in the Navajo Nation, where many thousands of people still live without access to electricity (over 14,000 people, accounting for an estimated 75% of all U.S. households without power). In doing so, he strives to give back to his community and ensure a better, brighter future for students.
Fowler’s photographs capture the dramatic tension between light and shadow over the red rock formations of the Navajo Nation, where he grew up. His humanitarian journey began with the realization that he could sell these photos to raise money for supplies that would directly benefit the people who, like him, have been shaped by an ongoing relationship with the land.
Much of Fowler’s work focuses on bridging the education gap for students in the Navajo Nation, many of whom lack resources often taken for granted in other communities. Without light to do homework, for example, learning often stops when students leave the school building.
Lack of refrigeration also contributes to the gap. The nearest grocery store might be an entire day’s worth of travel away, and without power for refrigeration, it’s impossible to keep foods like fruit and vegetables fresh. Without vital proteins, vitamins, and electrolytes, students’ diets suffer immensely. As Fowler puts it, if you don’t have a refrigerator, you can forget about eating healthily.
The disadvantage experienced by students without electricity is something Fowler is intimately familiar with: He himself was one of them.
For Fowler, homework always took a backseat to other responsibilities. In wintertime, for example, collecting firewood consumed much of his afterschool time—and after dark, the only way to get homework done was to sit in front of the woodstove or kerosene lamp.
“I was always playing catch up,” he said. “There wasn't a day where I was able to get ahead.”
Fowler works with the nonprofit Heart of America to address these challenges for a new generation of students. With the installation of solar panels and battery systems in their homes, families have an effective and reliable off-grid power supply. And with electricity, students can charge laptops, read and study after the sun goes down, and eat healthier foods.
“When a kid has power, they have the ability to empower their education,” Fowler said.
In March, Fowler, with Heart of America and engineering students from California Polytechnic State University, installed solar for 12 families in the Red Mesa Unified School District. As part of the installation, Dometic donated CFX3 75DZ powered coolers to the families, giving them, for the first time, the ability to keep fresh, healthy food on hand—and, for one of the families, the ability to keep insulin cold.
The dramatic light over the buttes and canyons of Fowler’s home—so present in his photographs—still captures his imagination. But so does a different kind of light, the kind that can literally change lives with the flip of a switch—just as it did for Fowler’s own family, when electricity was eventually installed in his home.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Fowler’s favorite installations are the ones that happen in the evening.
It’s a special moment: The sun sets. Night arrives. But instead of darkness, another family flips the light on for the first time.