Author: mlacourciere1me-com

On Tuesday Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti with winds at 145 miles per hour.  The most devastated section of Haiti is where Sirona has been focused for the past three years installing solar stations that provide electricity to hundreds of homes.  The south of Haiti was completely severed from the rest of the country when the bridge outside of Petit Goave was swept away.  In addition to the loss of the bridge all communication to the south was cut off as well when cell towers were destroyed.

The wait for news has been excruciating.  What we do know is that crops were lost, the fishing industry destroyed, thousands of people are homeless and the death toll is rising as more information comes in.  The majority of our solar station operators were between Les Cayes and Port Salut, the area that took the brunt of Matthew’s assault.  Sirona is waiting for news to determine first how our system operators and communities were impacted, and for information to assess the destruction and loss of equipment.  Once we have assessed our needs we will post more information.  Our biofuel program is based in the area around Petit Goave and we are waiting for word on the thousands of families that we work with in that area as well.

Many thanks to those who follow and support the work we have done in Haiti over the past eight years.  Sirona will be working to rebuild after this tragedy, and donations to that effort are greatly appreciated.  Following a tragedy an appeal to donors is based upon immediate need, and we cannot yet assess our needs.  If you wish to donate to directly assist victims of this disaster the following organizations would be my top choice for humanitarian assistance because I personally witness the good work they do in Haiti both during good times and times of crisis:

Aid Still Required has been working in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.  Unlike other aid organizations that came and went, ASR has stayed in Haiti expanding programs that support communities and build self-sufficiency.  ASR has supported Sirona’s biofuel program and gone further by building an incredible school for children of our farming community.  The school mercifully survived the storm, but many homes of the families were damaged or destroyed and ASR will work to assist the community directly.

Mission of Hope International started by Lex and Renee Edme has been working in Haiti since 2000 to build schools, increase community sustainability, and provide assistance during crisis.  MOHI is an outstanding organization that will put use funds for long-term improvements in their communities.

Food for the Poor has worked in Haiti since 1986 and the signs of their work are found throughout the countryside.  Following this disaster this organization will have a major impact as food security has been greatly impacted by Matthew’s destruction.

Doctors Without Borders is an organization that provides medical assistance in Haiti to those that would not receive it otherwise. There is a great fear that the cholera epidimic will increase and this organization will be working with communities to provide care.

Thank you in advance for thinking of the people of Haiti.  More posts will follow as we get more information from the field.

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Three elements are required to have an impact in development work.  The program must be sustainable, replicable and scalable.  Over time Sirona is proving that our Ti Soley Program is sustainable both environmentally and economically.  When 100 homes pay for electricity access from our solar systems the cost per home is low enough for homes to improve their economics by paying less for energy than they had paid for inferior sources of energy (kerosene, batteries, cell phone charging, candles, etc.).  Also, when 100 homes are paying a small fee each month the capital cost of the station is paid off in under five years with a return that is acceptable to impact investors.  By creating local businesses we are we are improving both household and village economics.  We are keeping the money that flows into the kerosene market circulating in impoverished communities instead.

Next, our program is replicable.  We have replicated our success throughout Haiti and we are currently engaged in a small program in Ghana as well as looking at opportunities in Kenya and Uganda.  The program can be replicated in any impoverished off-grid community where the current median cost of household energy is at least $10 per month.  In Haiti the median cost that homes are currently paying is $10.50 and rising due to local inflation.

Finally, impact requires scalability.  In the past week we deployed electricity access for 600 homes in four days.  With a pickup and a team of two, two stations can be deployed in a day.  If the household size is 5 people per home, we reach 1,000 people per day.  The program can scale as rapidly as financing is available and its impact is instant.

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We are proving, by delivering 1.5 tons of equipment to a tiny island in Haiti, and to its mountaintops, that our program can be deployed anywhere that energy poverty persists.  We will continue to demonstrate the positive impacts of our work and look forward to expanding throughout and beyond Haiti in the coming year.

The recent deployment was part of the UN Environmental Program’s Cote de Sud Initiative funded by the Government of Norway.  The opportunity to work with this consortium has been a privilege.

12346473_968110443262632_6353387216766760745_nIt takes money to establish programs in developing countries, but they won’t thrive if local people are not engaged and trained to succeed.  Sadly much money is lost on projects that don’t capitalize on building local capacity.

From the beginning Sirona has designed our programs with local partners.  We didn’t just ask if they liked the programs, we worked with them to create and customize the business plans.  As we replicate our program in new countries we work with the local partners to determine what customizations their communities will need for the program to succeed.  Our programs work because of that input.  In addition, the equipment we use is streamlined and specifically designed for local technicians to be able to understand and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.  The Ti Soley kits are designed to be simple, durable and reliable.

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Our manufacturing partners, Day and Night Solar and Wagan Tech have been invaluable to us.  This past week we deployed our first six Day and Night SC1500 systems and 600 new Ti Soley kits.  Five of
the six solar stations can tie into the Haitian grid, and one was a solar stand-alone system.  Day and Night Solar sent a technician to train our local
technicians.  There is a craving in Haiti and other developing countries for this type of training.  The technicians can now communicate any issue with Day and Night Solar, and because the equipment is warranted solutions will be found for anything that goes wrong in the future.

Within a week of the gavel pounding at the Paris Climate Accord Sirona deployed six new stations to supply clean, affordable electricity to 600 more homes in Haiti.  We have been working towards this deployment for six months with goods delayed in customs for most of that period.  Today though 600 homes now have access to electricity.

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In addition to bringing an electricity solution our program created six new small business that provide recharging of battery kits called “Ti Soley” (“Little Sun” in creole) kits.  These businesses collect a rental fee each month that is less than the prices households already pay for kerosene.  This means that the environment is improved by lowering kerosene consumption in rural Haiti and village economics are improved by keeping the money that would have gone to the kerosene market in their local economy.

In Paris on December 12th delegates from 195 countries committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and the following week in rural Haiti a small step was taken towards that goal.

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It was an honor to be the guest speaker at the Women in NECA Round Table at the annual NECA convention in San Francisco.  NECA, the National Electrical Contractor’s Association was a well attended conference where Sirona’s manufacturing partner Day and Night Solar displayed their range of solar products.  The conference proved to be a great way to connect with others in the electrical industry.

An article following the event was run in US Builder’s Review and can be found at: http://www.usbuildersreview.com/blog/annual-women-neca-round-table-connects-leading-ladies-san-francisco

_DSC0085 2Since January of 2009 I have been making trips to Haiti.  We have accomplished a great deal lighting homes and creating a biofuel program, but its only a drop in a bucket.  You can look either at accomplishments, or need, and feel encouraged or depressed.  Today I’m cleaning out my home office and ran across a bundle of notes from a trip in 2011.  I wrote this then, and felt encouraged after reading it today.  If you haven’t been to Haiti you really can’t imagine what it is like from what you hear on the news.  I think I wrote this years ago to share, and I’m glad I found it today:

Smiling, laughing, kisses on cheeks, beautiful children with ribbons in braids;
School uniforms. Boys and girls walk linked, arm in arm, to school.
Laughter.
Makeshift kites and balls entertain, chalkboard slates educate.

Respect.
Workers scurry from place to place. Those without jobs make them.
A helping hand is always there.
Your truck won’t stay stuck in the mud for long – the village comes to help.

Curious stares from expressionless faces ignite into dazzling smiles with a simple “hello”.

Beautiful beaches, water in countless shades of blue.
Mountains rise one after another covered with rocks and infant trees.

Optimism, determination, boundless creativity and ingenuity define the Haitian way.
Can-do, will-do: their attitude.

Not blind to the poverty, the creases placed on faces through countless hardships;
the red hair of malnutrition.
Waste, garbage, open sewers, sickness.
Broken dreams, debris, rusted equipment.
Sugarcane fields lying in waste due to cheaper overseas sugar.
Rice – the same.

I see these things, all of them, but to me they are not the image of Haiti.
This is the current condition, but I see too much to believe it will last.

Haiti is not hopeless. Haitians are not hopeless.
The reflection of “Haiti” is in the smiles of her people.
I am privileged and honored to work in such a place, and her optimism is contagious.  I am not hopeless.
It is my responsibility to tell the world, whatever you’ve heard before, consider this: there is much more to the story.

-Michelle Lacourciere

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Christelle Gorman, Gabino Guerengomba, Michelle Lacourciere

On August 7th Michelle Lacourciere was honored to speak about rural energy solutions at an event, “Transformative Innovation Africa Soirée” which corresponded with the timing of the U.S. African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.  The event was a co-sponsored by the STAR TIDES Initiative and Integrated Solar Technologies and was well attended by USAID representatives, and many, including diaspora, who are interested in development in Africa.  One of five speakers Ms. Lacourciere was given time to discuss the success of Sirona’s program rural energy program in Haiti, our partnership with Day & Night Solar (which was initiated at a STAR TIDES event in San Diego two years ago) and the potential for replication of this success beyond Haiti.  The highlight of her presentation was illuminating the new Ti Soley kit which is pictured below.  Along with this kit a customer receives home lighting accessories (two bases and two LED bulbs that each provide light equivalent to a 50 Watt bulb).  A good time was had by all and many potential opportunities arose through the course of the evening.  It’s an honor and privilege to be able to speak so highly of what our partners in Haiti are accomplishing on the ground.  IMG_4351

IMG_4229Sirona places the power to create use and sell energy into the hands of the world’s poorest people.  This is a good thing.  Without access to energy people are trapped in grinding poverty.  With access to even basic energy people breathe easier (by avoiding contact with toxic kerosene fumes) and can have improved access to communication (cell phones and radios).  Things change for the better, but how?   And how much?  It’s a fair question to ask, “how much does having a couple of light bulbs really help?”.

That very question was undertaken by anthropologists from George Mason University.  Funded by the United Nations Environmental Program they went to Haiti to study three villages.  The first community has no energy access, the second has had Sirona’s Ti Soley program in place for about 2 years, and the third has had Ti Soley for about 6 months.  The Impact Assessment report: Sirona Impact Assessment-Final Report – June 2014 explains how Sirona’s energy access solution is improving lives and shows that even this level of energy makes a significant difference.

 

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Sonny teaching young customers about Ti Soley

Sirona’s Haiti team has been very busy working to select sites and train new Operators to recharge Ti Soley kits in the southern region of Haiti.  In June the team added 12 new Operators and  opened 12 new sites.  Ten of these new sites are serving 50 homes and two already serve 100 homes.  These sites are called “Depo Eneje” or Energy Store in Creole.  Funding for this program was received from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) as part of the Cote du Sud Initiative.  Funded by the Government of Norway the initiative is a comprehensive plan for promoting local programs that positively impact erosion, agriculture, fishing and energy in the Cayes region of Haiti.  Critically these programs create jobs, build local capacity and are sustainable.  Sirona is very proud to be a partner in this endeavor and thrilled to be nearing the initial goal of 1,000 homes lit.  We are closing in on completion of our first phase and will have a second phase that will bring light to an additional 2,000 homes in next 6-9 months.  The photo above shows our Customer Service Representative, Sonny, teaching kids about the Ti Soley kit and how it is used in the home.   Once these children’s homes have a kit they will no longer be exposed to the toxic fumes of kerosene lanterns (the soot from which equals about 40 cigarettes per day to everyone in the house).  These kids will breathe better, be able to study easier, and even listen to the rest of the World Cup on their radios.