I arrived in Haiti on Wednesday and in three days visited seven of Haiti's nine departments, the majority of the country. Through this I earned my new name: The Flying Lady. Of course the goal of this travel was to visit each of the six solar Sunblazer units which supply basic electricity to 40 homes each.
I made a template of questions for the Operators so that I could compare results. What I can summarize is this:
In June we brought equipment valued at approximately $150,000 and deployed it throughout Haiti. As we near October I can report that loss of equipment is zero. Not a single kit, bulb or unit has vanished. The communities are so incredibly proud to have access to the light that they are protecting it. There have been no security incidents in three months.
We expected, of course, that there would be a failure point in the pilot, and after noting that all of the equipment has remained secure we looked to the records for customer lease payments. Every one of the 240 households leasing our light kits paid every month, on time. Coming up with any type of payment is extremely difficult in rural Haiti, but the program is not sustainable unless it is a business. That business requires that customers pay the Operators, and they in turn pay a monthly lease to Sirona Haiti so that we may repay our investors. Otherwise we cannot build upon what we have begun. The household rate is currently $50 Haitian dollars a month for unlimited recharges, about $6.50 US. People wish the cost was lower, of course, yet nobody has failed to pay or returned their kit for economic reasons. Actually, nobody has returned a kit at all. Every customer who signed up in July has kept their kit.
How popular is the program? I asked Operators how many people they had waiting for kits and the list exceeds 2,000 altogether. If we assume that the household size is six, there are easily 12,000 people waiting to receive access to our equipment.
When I attended SOCAP in San Francisco earlier this month the only criticism of our business plan was that it did not include funds for publicity/promotion. I tried to explain that this was not a necessary component for our budget. Placing a light in the darkest of night IS promotion, and from this trip I know for certain that I am correct. The only promotion needed at this time is for locating potential funders of the next step.
Asking Haitians how they are benefitting from their electricity is much like asking you, "exactly what is it about having access to air to breathe makes your life better?". I did ask the question of course, to Operators and customers, and these are a few of their responses:
-I put one light in my house and one outside so that others could share in the light. Now they all gather in front of my house at night to talk, children play, it is wonderful. -Our kerosene lamps made our ceilings black, the fumes were hard to breathe, our clothes smelled... our life is changed by this light. We used to need to buy kerosene, buy matches, and in the dark we would find the gas, fill our lamp and light it; the lights are so easy for us, we just turn them on. We breathe so much better. -People in the city have lights, and now we do. We are very proud. -Our children can study now with good light. -If I am reading a book and it gets dark, I can continue to read at night.
Each comment was delivered with a beaming smile. Every village is incredibly appreciative. I was amazed, and continue to be, that there has been no failure point in our project at all. We are ready to scale up and begin assembling units in Haiti. Now it is an issue of funding, but I am very encouraged by what I have seen this week.
Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be attending and speaking at a workshop dedicated to rural electricity solutions in Haiti. The workshop is hosted by the government of Haiti and all of the key decision makers and stakeholders will be present. I am thrilled to have been invited and hope to make a good demonstration of our work, and its impact. The positive implications of our work are so very obvious to me, I am very optimistic that the work will be well received and scaling to reach one million people in five years will begin.