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Reflections on Haiti

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_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

Transformative Innovation Africa Soirée

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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

Sirona’s Impact: Do 2 Lightbulbs Really Help?

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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.

 

700 Haitian Homes Lit in June

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Sonny teaching kids

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.

National Jefferson Award Received

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20140617_2069It is with a full heart that I write this post.  Last fall I was selected as a regional Jefferson Award winner by KPIX TV and KCBS Radio in San Francisco.  In January I was selected as a Silver Jefferson Award for being in the top five local winners.  In May I learned that of the five I was to represent KPIX and KCBS in Washington, D.C. at the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony.  This was an incredible honor.

The Jefferson Awards were created to be an equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize recognizing individuals for public service, and it is the nations highest award in this field.  During the National Ceremony five individuals are selected in secret and given the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award during the ceremony.  I, Michelle Lacourciere, Director of the Sirona Cares Foundation, received one of the five awards yesterday.

These award ceremonies show us all what is so very right in America.  Three days of celebrating amazing programs, projects, compassion and positive energy.  A major effort is put into recognition of youth who are giving their time and effort to make lives better.  It was extremely humbling to be invited to this ceremony, and I have many, many people to thank for their support in getting Sirona to this stage.  My family and friends have supported me through every hurdle and challenge, and without this support network I simply could not travel as much as I must to keep our programs growing.  I also wish to thank my Board of Directors and my amazing volunteers who have come through in amazing ways, every time.

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The IEEE and its Community Solutions Initiative (CSI)  deserves much gratitude and appreciation.  Partnering with the IEEE allowed us to take a dream and turn it into a reality.  There are countless individuals who have given their time and talent, and the IEEE has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for development and delivery of equipment that has brought light to villages across Haiti.  I am eternally grateful to the IEEE and CSI for it’s commitment to bringing energy to developing countries.

My manufacturing partners Wagan Tech and Day and Night Solar also deserve a huge thanks.  They have worked with me to develop cost effective products that will change the lives of many in the future.  It has been a blessing to work with these companies who are dedicated to our mission of bringing energy to the poor.

Without the support of KPIX TV and KCBS Radio we would never have been noticed.  I thank these groups for nominating me, for the footage they have created, and for the support that they have given me.

Finally, without our Haitian partners we would be nowhere.  I am forever in the debt of our team in Haiti, the friends who I have worked with down there to grow and improve the program, UNEP, USAID, the Government of Haiti’s Ministry of Energy and National Utility, and most especially our Operators and customers who are truly the ones who proved that this program works.

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With all my thanks,

Michelle Lacourciere

Jatropha Press Training

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Sirona’s farmers have planted over 300,000 Jatropha saplings and thanks to Aid Still Required, an additional 30,000 seedlings are currently being distributed to farmers and 30,000 new seedlings are going into our nurseries.  These will be distributed in about 12 weeks.  Interest in our program is so high that the seedlings are designated to farmers as they are planted in the nursery, distributed as soon as they are healthy, and the next turn of the nursery begins. more