I begin this post with some wonderful news: All 10 of the orphans infected with cholera are now doing well. This was a huge relief to me, however there will be many stories without happy endings because Haiti is so fragile, and this illness is relentless in it's march.
The mission of our organization is to build sustainable communities. We create the opportunity for the poorest of the poor to create, use and sell fuel and thereby give them a strong platform from which to improve their lives. For the past two years we have focused on Jatropha farming for bio-fuel, and recently completed the business model and found pilot funding for a rural electricity project. I was just in Washington D.C. joining another group, Earthspark International, at their events. We found spaces to collaborate and support each others work which is critical for improvement in Haiti.
Anyone who has followed the work of Sirona has encountered stories I have posted about the orphanages in Jeremie. We have supported them in many ways, school uniforms, earthquake supplies, and locally produced food. The fact is, however, that none of this type of assistance is sustainable. In January we will prove that permanent, sustainable change is possible.
Sirona and the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative (CSI) group will soon deploy six pilot electricity units, one is currently being fabricated in New York, the other five will be assembled in Haiti by Haitians with training from IEEE members. Imagine that rather than charity you create a situation where there is a significant improvement for people in rural Haiti that can, through enterprise, sustain itself. That is our goal.
In January an orphanage in Jeremie becomes a proving ground for this idea. We will send a trailer which has six 4x6 solar panels, forty customer "kits", and four large batteries to run a business from the orphanage site. The director of the orphanage will run a business, and will send the forty kits to people's homes. Each kit includes a rechargeable battery, wiring, two lights and a cell phone charger and for each kit a customer will pay $50 Haitian dollars (just over $6/month). Each month the director will collect these fees as well as income generated from his business, and (after three months of set-up time) pay a lease for the equipment of about $200/month. This project should enable him to generate enough income to become self-sufficient in caring for the orphans and dramatically increase their standard of living. The orphanage has not had any electricity for the past eight years, so it's clear that this project will immediately change their lives.
Our six pilot units will start six small businesses and bring light to 240 homes in January. It is an incredible project, and I am so very excited to have had the opportunity to work with the IEEE on this. Added to that excitement is the knowledge that the ten children I was worried about will be there when the lights come on for the first time in their lives.