After a visit to Haiti people leave with only one of two reactions. Some think Haiti is the worst place that they have ever seen. Heartbroken and frightened after seeing extreme poverty they flee and never return. The other reaction is one of being hooked by Haiti. For life.
I fell in love with Haiti, and have spent three years working out what it is exactly that I can do to bring the most change for communities there. Initially it was the children I focused upon, how to get them food, how to get them into school. In the first few months of running this organization we raised the funds to feed four orphanages 1/4 of the years food. While this was a great accomplishment, I must admit that once I sent the funds I was deflated. I realized that this would be a perpetual cycle, and it was then that I developed a strong bent towards creating truly sustainable communities by creating ways that people in the communities could earn more and feed themselves. We handled the largest post-earthquake aid delivery from Northern California, but again, like the money for food I had to weigh the cost of that project against it's impact. 20,000 people received basic necessities, at a cost of roughly $20,000. This $1 per person ratio was not bad, however I know that $20,000 can be spent in ways that will have lasting impact that far exceeds the clothing and toiletries we shipped.
Our work on the IEEE/Sirona Haiti Rural Electricity Project shows exactly how funds can be spent to create massive change in places like Haiti. The 1.5 Kw solar charging station provides life-changing benefits for 40 households. Kerosene lamps are dangerous. Their fumes noxious and many people, especially children, suffer terrible burns every year. We have empowered people in Haiti by bringing jobs, business, and a step out of the darkness. Today one of the orphanages we had assisted is able to buy food with income generated by their Sunblazer unit.
Our six pilot stations are operating perfectly and were not affected by recent storms. All were visited by our Haitian field technicians in the past two weeks and interviews with both station Operators as well as customers confirm that this is a hugely successful endeavor, and that people simply love it. The project is so embraced by the communities that all six units are safe and secure, and all home kits accounted for. There has been no theft or tampering with any of the units. This reflects another benefit of business over charity: we take better care of things that we work for than things that are given to us.
Our work is focused upon listening to Haitians about what they want, and they often say, "It's better to teach a man to fish than to give a man a fish". Below is an excerpt from an e-mail I received after our trip. Comments like this are encouraging, and let us know that not only in Haiti are we on the right track with our work:
"My husband, Eric, shared with me the information that you passed on to him regarding Sirona Cares. Both the Jatropha Project and the IEEE Rural Electricity Program are amazing! What strikes me is your emphasis on building sustainable communities within Haiti and beyond. Truly, as stated in the Jatropha Project Overview, "charity is debilitating." When I was in Haiti in March, I was truly struck by the Haitian people and their strong desire to have jobs and a chance for a better life. In contrast, there appeared to be many well-intentioned groups offering aide to the people of Haiti. While no one would argue that the need in Haiti is great, the greatest need is not for foreigners to come in and "rescue" Haitians through foreign aide, but rather the need is for the establishment/building of sustainable communities.
We commend your vision to build sustainable communities! We also desire to become a part of building sustainable communities in Haiti and beyond. Thanks for sharing your story with us and giving us hope and confirmation that it is possible!"