Features

Lighting up Haiti

"Lighting up Haiti" Continued...

Issue: "2011 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 17, 2011

Neighbors are asking to be put on a waiting list so they can obtain battery kits of their own. (The list has surpassed 2,000 names.) In the meantime, not one of the 240 original customers has been late with a monthly payment-astonishing in a nation where half of electricity users illegally tap into power lines rather than pay the utility.

Computer technician Rick Davis, through his company Tech Assist Haiti, has partnered with Sirona to provide handheld devices that the station operators will use to record customer charge-ups in real time. He's also preparing to outfit the power stations to operate as internet cafés, with the help of an Intel grant. French universities are already providing "tele-learning" to Haiti, where teachers provide instruction through a two-way, internet-based video conference, Davis said. He envisions rural internet cafés providing similar educational services, including "tele-medicine," where doctors teach rural parents how to deal with tuberculosis or prevent malnutrition.

Sirona's goal is to provide electric lighting to 1 million Haitians within five years. The organization is making plans to provide more battery kits to waiting customers and to manufacture additional power stations in Haiti. Government officials have expressed support for the project, and Lacourciere said the president of EDH, Haiti's state-run electric utility, asked her in November if she'd bring a solar station to his hometown, Aquin. The solar stations aren't competing with the utility because they provide power to areas the utility hasn't reached. When it does reach them, the portable stations can simply be moved to a new location.

Lacourciere said God has brought all the right people together to make the project life-changing: Honore Guerrier, a pastor who runs an orphanage out of an abandoned nightclub in Jérémie, had no outside funding and had been soliciting locals for years for donations. But as the operator of a new power station, Guerrier is earning enough income recharging battery kits to help feed the 54 children in his care. When the lights first arrived on July 4, one of the young boys pulled the chain to turn on a bulb-and jumped back, amazed.

In a video Lacourciere made, Guerrier spoke through a translator, wearing a black Sirona Cares baseball cap and speaking above the noise of frolicking kids. In spite of the popularity of the light kits in his community, Guerrier laughs and says they are causing at least one problem among his orphans: "They don't want to go to bed. Because they have light, they can read. They want to do this and that. They don't want to go to sleep."

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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