Athletes, celebrities, and comic book characters are often hailed as heroes.  But every day, courageous individuals who are taking on global problems fly under the radar.  I want to introduce you to two of them: Dr. Laura Stachel of WE CARE Solar and Nancy Hughes of StoveTeam International.

They have been named as “CNN Heroes – Everyday People Changing the World.” Tomorrow, CNN will name its top 10 heroes out of a group of 23.  Regardless of what happens, Laura and Nancy will remain heroes to us. Read more about their incredible work.

Hero: Dr. Laura Stachel, WE CARE Solar

Imagine having to give birth in the dark or having to have a cesarean section by flashlight because your clinic didn’t have power.  This is the reality Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician-gynecologist, found on the ground when she traveled to Nigeria for a research trip in 2008.  It’s also a reality for health facilities around the world that serve hundreds of millions of people, but lack reliable access to electricity.

This situation is especially dangerous for mothers in childbirth and their babies.  In fact, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

Laura told CNN, “Once I witnessed the things that I saw, I had to let people know, and I had [to] do something about it.”  She knew just the person to help: her husband Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator.

Hal developed a suitcase-size solar electric system that could provide power for lighting, mobile communications, and other equipment without being connected to an electric grid.  Laura and Hal founded WE CARE Solar and brought the “Solar Suitcase” to maternal health clinics in Nigeria, where health workers quickly deployed it.  Since then, the nonprofit has expanded and Solar Suitcases have been used in 25 countries.  A midwife in Uganda who received a Solar Suitcase explained its impact when she performed a delivery, telling WE CARE Solar: “A nurse without power is like a blind person. Without the lights, the baby would have definitely died. The light allowed us to resuscitate the premature baby and suture the mother. We are so happy.”

WE CARE Solar is part of the Energy Access Practitioner Network, which support its 1,500 members and champions – like Laura and Hal – to catalyze progress toward achieving universal energy access by 2030, one of the three key objectives of the UN and World Bank-led Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  Learn more at or on Twitter at @energyaccessPN.

Hero: Nancy Hughes, StoveTeam International

After her husband passed away in 2001, Oregon’s Nancy Hughes volunteered with a medical team in Guatemala as a cook.  While there, she met Irma, whose hands had been burned shut after she fell into an open fire as a child.  This motivated Nancy to learn more about the dangers of cooking with inefficient stoves that burn solid fuels such as wood and charcoal.

What she learned shocked her: In addition to burn risks, cooking with inefficient stoves fills houses with dangerous smoke that causes health problems like pneumonia, lung cancer, and heart disease.  Every year, 4 million people lose their lives from household cooking smoke.

Nancy decided to take action.  “The only solution was to make and sell safe fuel-efficient stoves that would save lives,” she wrote.  She founded StoveTeam International and worked with supporters and engineers to develop “a safe, portable, affordable fuel-efficient stove.”  Even better: The stoves are produced in areas where they are needed, bringing economic opportunities to communities in Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries.

StoveTeam International is one of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ strongest partners in Latin America.  The expertise, relationships, and commitment of Nancy and her team are critical to the Alliance’s work to have 100 million households to adopt clean cooking solutions by the year 2020.  To learn more about this issue, visit or follow on Twitter at @cookstoves.