END OF OUR SECOND WEEK
Our tight schedule for the end of week two was not easy to follow! Basically, we had to push the rollout two days, and could only manage to start on Friday. It is not always easy to follow a schedule, and we wanted to do things properly as well. We were concerned about the quality of our work, so we would not want to rush things too much. The reason for some of the delay was what you can call showstoppers. And this was on Thursday when we wanted to finally start the rollout. By the end of the day we managed to finalize the user agreement, which had three parties; J/P HRO, the Committee and the user himself. All the user instructions were finalized, and the agreement between J/P HRO and the Committee was also signed.
On Friday morning we were ready. But still there was a discussion at the Committees office. So after a while we had to go to the boss' house to get some clarity. We were able to reach a consensus on the importance of doing a pilot project before making the business of the solar products into something profitable. This was a key aspect to communicate to the Committee before starting the pilot project.
Another thing that can be frustrating is that the working day does finish at 5 in the afternoon for all the employees. Even if we would want to continue working, we have to respect the time we are given. We also want to stay as safe as possible, and going out after dark might pose other dangers. So all we could do was to make the most out of the time we had.
We started the rollout by going down the list of people that had been chosen. It was not an easy task! As I mentioned before, the area is a maze of houses and small back alleys, and the list was definitely not based on geographical position... Luckily we got to work with Fednel and Romelus, who knows some of the area, and work there every day. For some of the time we also needed help from someone else, and another J/P HRO employee came with us after lunch. Romelus was very enthusiastic and promoted the lanterns as the star of the show!
All together we managed to deliver 10 lanterns on Friday, which was a good day considering the late start-up. People were very grateful and thanked us for the product. The overall perception was that it was something they need, and want for themselves. Even if they all seemed to have some electricity, the frequent blackouts make it unreliable, impractical and in many cases force them to use other sources of energy to get lighting. The most used sources of light that we saw besides electricity was kerosene lamps, candles and flashlights.
We were still eager to get the rest of the products out to be able to visit the families after a few days. This kind of visit would enable us to see how they were handling and using the product, and get some ideas for the post survey questions, and how we can learn from the pilot. And if there are any problems we can try and address them to see what can be done, and adjust the course of action as we go. Unfortunately it was weekend again, and the visit would have to be right after rolling out the rest of the products on Monday.
L'HÔPITALE UNIVERSITAIRE DE MIREBALAIS – THE WORLDS LARGEST SOLAR HOSPITAL
Before we came here, Tommy had heard about a hospital built in Haiti that uses 100% solar energy for its needs. It had been a wish to be able to visit the hospital for the whole trip, and we finally did! The hospital is located around 50 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince in a town called Mirebalais.
We were interested in finding out how the energy was being used, and also where the PV-panels had come from, and how they were implemented. It turns out it was a German company that was responsible for bringing and installing the panels. Engineers had trained six Haitian electricians to do the installation of the panels and the grid connection. Two of them were hired for operating the system and this is when Tommy is thinking; "AHA, there are four available people trained in installing solar panels!" So you see, I got to get more of this way of thinking.
We started quite early in the morning, (well 9 is early on a Saturday) and the reason that it takes 2 hours to drive 50 kilometres is, well, Port-au-Prince and all its ups and downs (read: bumps) and traffic. Natale Carasali (Tali), a paediatrician who was volunteering for J/P HRO and living in the same house with us was also very interested and joined us for the trip. He was there in the same period of time as us, and was one of the many nice people we got to know in the house. He would be able to understand more of the applications of the hospital.
And then there was the thing about plans again. The person we were in contact with wasn't working that day, because there was a festival in the town of Mirebalais. But, it all worked out after all, and we were lucky to get a tour of the hospital and got to see the PV-panels on the roof. We met a nice guy outside who spoke English and was able to first get us up to the roof to look at the panels, and then got in touch with a surgeon who gave us a tour of the hospital.
There are many articles about the hospital; these are two I liked because they are describing things more thoroughly:
It is truly amazing what they have achieved with this hospital, and that it is built in Haiti. On the downside the operating costs are high and the hospital is currently not operating on full capacity. But nevertheless, it is creating jobs and helping people, and as long as this is a fact, I believe it is a good thing.
A QUICK TRIP TO THE BEACH
After the visiting the hospital we were able to drive by a beach and get a swim. This time it was not so refreshing, the sea can get pretty warm! But it sure looks beautiful.
To get the most out of my stay here, I was ready for another road trip on Sunday. This time I went with with 3 others from the J/P HRO house. The destination was a place called Bassin Bleu - "Blue basin", a set of waterfalls and swimming holes with the clearest blue water you can imagine. The colour is just unbelievable. It is located just outside of the city Jacmel on the south coast of Haiti. It was two and a half hours to drive each way, but it was definitely worth it. The water was cold and so refreshing. We had a lot of fun jumping from the waterfall itself. I felt like I was in the Tarzan movie!
The rollout continued on Monday morning. Me, Tommy and Fednel were working as best we could to get everything done. We started off with the solar home systems. The two fixed lights with accompanying light switches and cords needed to be placed, and we had brought some simple tools. It was not enough to be able to fix the solar panel to the roof, and we were also concerned about the risk that somebody might steal the panel. So the solution was like Tommy has done in other projects; to take the panel inside after dark. Each house is different, and we needed to try and find the best solution for each and one of them.
The streets of Delmas 32 were alive after dark, and the area had electric power at the time. This was a good thing, because we wanted to se where we were going, even if it meant that we would not see the full advantage of the solar products. We ended up visiting 2 families with solar home systems and one with a solar lantern. It was fun to get to go back and see the people again in a different setting, and to see the various ways they used the products. It was also rewarding to see that they had already started using the products. We hope they will use and enjoy them!
On Wednesday it was time to go back to the houses yet another time to collect the small post survey sheet we had given them at the rollout. So I joined Fednel to pick up the surveys and to ask some questions about the product to get more feedback. Meanwhile Tommy was working in the office to do some wrap-up work.
This time we were able to go to each house in a more geographical manner. Luckily. And I must say it was a big surprise that the houses were as close as they were! Yet another proof of the quality of the “addresses”…
As we talked to people, I would try and ask them questions about the usage of the lanterns. I would ask if it is working like it should, if they like it, what they like about it, was the brightness of the light strong enough, did the battery last all night like it should, did they have any problems, what kind of problems, and so on. It also enabled us to get information about the products that we did not know from before, and would not have found unless we tried it ourselves. Again, people were very grateful, and thanked us for the product. I also think that they are less sceptical of someone who comes to visit them more than just once, even if I was going away shortly after.
WRAP UP WORK
After collecting the surveys, it was time to do the wrap-up work, where we wanted to hand over the project to J/P HRO as well as possible with what we had learned and the way to go further. I hope that the project will be well taken care of by Fednel and the other employees of J/P HRO, and that they can help the Committee with a possible scale-up after the pilot is finished, if the result is positive. We believe it is important that someone feels ownership of the project. This way this person or department will be the driving force to work on it and make it matter. And I hope that in the end, these kinds of products can be good alternatives to what the people are faced with now, even if it cannot replace electricity alone. The fact that it might replace kerosene lamps and candles is encouraging. The lessons learned and the experience gained after the pilot might be used to implement the same technology in schools and community centres. And it is possible to consider bigger systems for more energy intensive applications such as shaving, TV and DVD, small refrigerators and so on.
TIME TO LEAVE
Suddenly it was time to pack up our things and get ready to leave. But first we had to take a dinner out with our new friends from the J/P HRO house, and a few beers. It was a fun Wednesday night with good food and good company! I will miss you guys. Thursday we packed the rest of our things and went to say our goodbyes at the office. I hope I can return one day.
I have come to learn more about the challenges of working closely with a community and the importance of sustainability aspects when implementing different programs into the community. There are a lot of things to consider, and I have only just started to understand some of it. (Even with a technical background I do understand that one cannot just come up with a fancy technical solution and everyone is happy, even if it sounds like a good idea in the first place). People of different communities have different cultures, environments and traditions and different ways of living together, which have to be respected. I have also learned more about what working in a Non-Governmental Organization is like, some of the processes involved, and the challenges one face. After only three weeks, I am by no means an expert on any of these fields, but the time in Haiti has been valuable to me.
So what is the road ahead? It is clear that Haiti, being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, still needs to develop and find better solutions that can help them in becoming more independent. What is the bigger picture? How will the county supply people with jobs, and be able to grow? As for the commune of Delmas there are many challenges still ahead, and we wish J/P HRO the best of luck in their important work to save lives and bring sustainable programs to the Haitian people. We hope for more rewarding cooperation between Engineers Without Borders and J/P HRO in the future.
Au revoir e merci Haiti!