Next up in our series of engagements with the amazing NGO Remar, I visited Haiti in order to install a baking oven on the roof of the orphanage that Remar is running in the Tabarre neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.
The last time I was in Haiti was in 2014 to build our Lytefire4 in collaboration with Haiti Communitere. It was a quick visit, just long enough to reacquaint myself with my main man Mackenson, buy materials, build the concentrator, cook some delicious food with the help of Fabienne (watch her going solar here), and then get back to Canada. Unfortunately we had no one who, at the time, was able to manage the project long term.
Happily, this has now changed. I reached out to a young man I met while I was in Haiti in 2012 who left a lasting impression. Louino Robillard is a powerful young community organizer deeply involved in Cité Soleil, the roughest neighborhood in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Right now he’s running the Konbit Bibliyotek Cité Soleil.
I reached out to Robi and asked him if he knew anyone who could help me get the project started in Haiti before I arrived in Nov. 2020. I told him this person needs to be good at communicating, well organized and if not already experienced with metal fabrication, at least experienced with working for NGO type projects. He gave me the contact info for one Makenson Merisca and after a 30min video call, I knew I had found my project manager in Haiti.
Makenson is a young family man, humble, quick to laugh and has worked a number of jobs that have prepared him to be our Solar Fire representative in Haiti. He’s worked with a number of my friends and colleagues and has been a licensed heavy truck driver for a number of years. He was filled with questions and already had in mind a number of potential clients. Mak is from Foret des Pins, some of the last forest in Haiti and he knows how important it is to preserve the trees for his children and Haiti’s future.
The Remar orphanage is taking care of about 20 young boys, providing a safe space for them to grow, learn and play. The orphanage is in a nice big sprawling house in Tabarre, not far from Doctors Without Borders. There are solar panels on the roof, clothes drying lines, friendly teachers, some very vocal dogs and a lovely young woman named Antonia who is one of the primary caregivers and who will be the resident baker-in-chief. The goal of the project is to enable them to bake bread and treats for the household and also bake bread, cookies and bonbon sirop (a local muffin like treat) for the neighbourhood and bring in a little extra money to the orphanage. No trees shading our Lytefire up there on the roof, but with tropical storms in mind we knew we would have to make a few structural changes to the Lytefire design in order to quickly and easily be able to lay it out flat and strap it down to avoid the worst of the wind.
Makenson dove right into finding all the materials needed to build the Lytefire5 and finding a workshop where we could build it. Luckily enough, one of his neighbors runs Haiti Energy Mixte, a renewable energy education and product sales company. Romane is a jovial Rhasta who grew up in Germany but who has been living in Haiti for most of his life. Trained as an engineer in Germany, he’s using his skills to teach about and install renewable energy systems in Haiti. He’s experienced with wind, photovoltaic and a wide variety of solar concentrators.
After my (much needed) 2 weeks rest / self isolation (I had, after all, traveled from Burkina Faso and spent 44 hours in planes, trains, airports and automobiles) we got to work. It brought me no end of joy that we managed to reconnect with Mackenson from my earlier visits to Haiti and Mackenson was our primary welder while we built the Lytefire5 for Remar.
Haiti is a challenging place to operate. The security situation is even worse than when I was there in 2012 with gang violence and kidnappings at all time highs. Luckily, Makenson knows his way around the streets and peeps, so, I think largely thanks to him, I never had any issues. I got a little apartment 10 minutes from the workshop, we bought all the materials and we got to work cutting, drilling, tapping and welding.
With a good project manager and workshop partner in place I took care to train Makenson (who despite not having much experience in the metal fab shop proved quite adept and eager to learn), Mackenson and Romane because the ideal outcome would be that they would be able to continue doing installations and delivering projects in my absence as the newest Solar Fire country office. It looks like this will become a reality thanks to Makenson’s ambition and network… keep your fingers crossed!
After a more than a few generator breakdowns and tool problems, we finished a beautiful Lytefire5!
Romane was especially interested in the operation of it since he had trained on a variety of other solar concentrators which he confided to me were extremely complex *coughschefflercough* and not particularly well adapted to developing world context.
We ran a quick hands on technological training session on how to install or replace mirrors and how to calibrate the focal point. I was extremely happy with the speed at which Remar’s staff were able to pick up the needed skills (especially Antonia!) and I barely had to instruct Makenson or Romane at all... they both picked up focal point calibration like they were born to do it.
As luck would have it, my baker friend Fabienne, who you might remember baked some pretty epic pineapple upside-down cake on the L4 back in 2014 was available to train Remar people in the finer points of pastry and bread baking.
For a few days we baked bread and cake and took pics and made videos while enjoying the sunshine on the roof. As usual, people were very impressed by the power of the Lytefire5. Fabienne was particularly impressed saying that it baked faster and more evenly than some of the ovens she had used while working at hotels - high praise indeed!
Haiti is near to my heart, and despite the difficulties of operating in the country, I know that we will have great success there because we have a team of true believers who are doing everything they can to ensure that the country has a prosperous and sustainable future. We all hope to play a significant part in connecting Haiti to the riches of the sun and making this proud nation once again a shining pearl of sustainability in the Caribbean.