Situated at the heart of the Caribbean, Haiti - known as the “Pearl of the Antilles’ - is renowned for creole culture and the country’s impressive natural beauty as an island of mountains. Unfortunately, Haiti’s location makes the country highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including frequent hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes. Since the catastrophic magnitude seven earthquake in 2010, Haiti has undergone a long rebuilding process and slow economic growth. The development of renewable energy infrastructure, both public and private, is central to Haiti’s rebuilding strategy and particularly important to rural areas outside the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Situated on the western peninsula of the country and high above the bay with outstanding views of the ocean, Durissy is home to a vibrant community of farms and goat trails. At the center of the community lies a series of structures painted in pastel greens and mango orange - these are the academic buildings that house a student body of nearly 500 pupils that travel for miles for an education that rivals even the best schools in Port-au-Prince.
Since the early 2000’s Educate Haiti, an American nonprofit, has been a partner in the development and educational services of the village. Educate Haiti has worked steadily to construct and maintain a campus of buildings that offers a rigorous pre-k through high school curriculum. School days include both physical activity and meals for the youth, many of whom travel by foot up to three hours to attend. Classroom instruction takes place in the early morning until just after lunch, when the classrooms have traditionally become too hot to hold class.
In the past, all education and activities took place with limited access to electricity, aside from the occasional power supplied by a diesel generator. The nearest power line lies 5 km down the mountain in the closest town. That changed in late August of 2019, as Twende staff and a team of 12 volunteers (from three countries!) traveled to Durissy to empower education. Armed with the technical know-how, donated supplies and spirit, these volunteers lived and worked alongside community members for a week in order to install and train locals on the benefits of solar energy for their schools.
Working simultaneously at two sites, volunteers successfully installed systems on both the elementary and high school structures. Utilizing racking, solar modules and equipment generously provided by project sponsors Unirac, Heliene, and Wholesale Solar, volunteers worked steadfast from sun-up to sundown for multiple days straight to install both arrays. Days started early, just before dawn at 6 AM and with the help from some strong Haitian coffee and continued until sundown. Each day, crews took a break during peak sun hours from 1-3 PM to take a respite from the heat and the strength of the sun’s rays.
While the majority of volunteers worked on the rooftop, several other members of the team worked to construct wire runs and prepare the battery rooms on the ground. Both solar arrays included storage by Rolls Surrette and state of the art Outback Power inverters. From time to time, crew members were assisted by local volunteers interested in learning about solar construction and wiring. Close by, curious kids played with scrap material and cardboard boxes with which they constructed a spaceship. (picture)
Towards the end of the trip and nearing the completion of the project, a category 4 hurricane named Dorian approached the northern tip of the country. At the last minute, the storm veered away, sparing the people of Haiti from the devastation the storm caused and allowing work to continue and a chance for volunteers to teach he students the basics of solar electricity with hands-on activities.
The team finished the work on schedule and the last evening was reserved for a community celebration just after dark and immediately following a friendly Durissy v. Twende soccer match. Hundreds of villagers gathered in the courtyard of the school where all the desks and benches from the classrooms where put in the yard around an old tree. Lit by the headlights of a few trucks, the school principal, priest and Twende staff inaugurated the system with speeches and a grand countdown. At the command of the community leader, Father Anis (the founder of the school and first person from Durissy to receive a K-12 education), the lights were turned on for the first time for all to see. Festivities followed, with a shared meal, dancing and music from a traditional “rara” (pronounced rah-rah) band.
Though Twende volunteers were only in the community for a short time, we hope to leave a lasting impact on the community. The school serves as a beacon of hope for a brighter future for the people of Durissy and it is now also a literal beacon of light in the community. We look forward to hearing stories from the school about the impact that having access to electricity has on education and on the surrounding community.