Shedding Light on Haiti

Three years after a devastating 2010 earthquake, a renewable energy plan aims to help the nation.

Farmer in Central Plateau of Haiti holding a solar-power light (Courtesy of Soleil Global)

In addition to Luci, Piverger is also currently guiding the sustainable development of more than 2,500 acres of land in the region with a focus on organic produce, manufacturing and residential housing. He has tapped experts from a range of fields and industries such as science, finance, medicine, law, entertainment and the arts through Soleil Global’s “Light Up the World” project.

“We’ve been bringing delegations to the area since October 2011 to inform and help execute SG’s mission,” Piverger told The Root. “For the past year, we’ve conducted fact-finding sessions and have analyzed ways to improve our work.”

The organization collected data on 465 families (mostly farmers) and found that the daily income of the median household in the Central Plateau is between $1 and $3. Yet residents spend $6 to $20 of that amount per month on gas for their kerosene lamps. The average travel time from their homes to the nearest supplier in that area is 4.3 to 9.3 miles on foot, which they make three to four times a month.

The residual impact this expense places on families is alarming, given that the Central Plateau is made up of mostly single-source income households. Soleil Global’s goals are ambitious, and so far, the Light Up the World project has distributed more than 1,000 micro-solar lights to small farmers, not simply as a form charitable trust, but as a method for getting on the road of economic independence in the long run.

Once the initial distribution phase is complete, SG plans to provide more lights through a cooperative investment partnership through which Haitians can use the savings they accrue from using Luci to buy more units for $10 each.

“When you give people something as charity, it doesn’t resonate as effectively as it does when they see it as investment,” Piverger explained. “The goal is to empower Haitians so they can once again determine their own fate, rather than treat them as a charity case.”

He hopes that the distribution and sale of these lights will stimulate employment and help people generate income. But beyond the economic value, the project also helps alleviate impediments in education. Schools can use the lights, and children can now study at night. So, tackling the problem of energy doesn’t just start anywhere; it starts at a level that is fundamental to every person’s livelihood.

As simple as this approach seems, it’s addressing a need that no Haitian can do without. Only time will tell if this project and overall shift toward renewable energy in communities such as the Central Plateau will be successful. But one thing’s certain: Without light, everything else is close to impossible.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Soleil Global was the organization that had named the solar light, Luci. However, the Luci light was invented and created by the New York-based firm Mpowerd. Soleil Global just uses the Luci light technology. We regret the error.

Jean McGianni Celestin is a New York-based writer who writes about race, sports and politics. Follow him on Twitter.

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