The USAID program to light 747 houses in the St. Marc communes of Haiti has rested near completion for weeks now. We deployed nine SunBlazer units in August, each with 40 home kits for customers. The units are operating well, and the communities have been excited to have access to affordable electricity. The catch is that 43 customer home kits per unit have been stuck in customs. Anyone who has shipped to Haiti has probably experienced a hiccup at the port, and unfortunately it was our turn to go through the extended process of claiming goods. We should be distributing the additional kits to bring all units up to 83 homes served by each SunBlazer in the next two weeks. With the bad there is always good, and the upside is that the delay allowed the new franchise Operators time to gain experience and run their businesses with fewer homes served. All are ready now to add the new homes, and increase the profitability of their businesses.STAR TIDES demonstrations this year in Washington D.C. STAR TIDES is a DOD funded program that highlights technologies that can be used to stabilize stressed (post-war, post-disaster) communities. The demonstrations proved to be an excellent opportunity for networking amongst shelter/water/energy/communications groups, and Sirona's Director ran a workshop for participants focused on "High Tech Solutions in Low Tech Environments". The talk was geared at how we have successfully deployed our equipment into rural Haiti without suffering any loss due to theft or tampering. For followers of the blog you already know, the answer rests upon the strength of community in rural Haiti. With 83 homes reliant on a station the odds of tampering with the SunBlazer unit has dropped to zero. Giving the community control of the unit has proven a successful method of mitigating those risks.
A new company, Sirona Haiti, S.A. was formed to collect revenue from stations and provide for the service technician to visit and repairs to be made as necessary. We have had technical issues with two stations during the past year and support from the IEEE volunteers has been critical. Our biggest challenge has been that of achieving true sustainability. We work in a tough environment, and we provide a new product. Reception of our equipment is very positive, but shifting an informal economy to a formal economy is challenging.
We have experienced the growing pains one would expect: the impact of a missed payment from an Operator, technical issues, port issues, even two hurricanes, flat tires. I am proud of our team, and happy to report that we are in successfully working through these issues as they arise. As the Creyole saying goes: "Piti piti na rive" (little by little we arrive). With new projects on the horizon I say with confidence, we are getting there.
The photo above was taken along the road by one of our team members and texted to me. What you see is a customer with their kit in tow. I'm not sure if they were going to recharge, or to use it in town that evening, all I am sure of is this: a product that we placed in the community is in use, making a difference, and that is a very exciting thing to get a candid photo of.