A few years ago, on one of my work trips to Haiti, I was deeply touched by how a small number of solar lights can profoundly improve human lives. After a long day of meetings with our local counterparts to review and discuss the advancement of our infrastructure projects rehabilitating the largest source of renewable energy in the country, the Peligre hydro-electric plant, and the expansion and upgrade of the distribution network in the metropolitan Port-au-Prince area, my colleagues and I planned to visit one of the most populated refugee camps in Petionville, located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. We met with the executing agency staff in charge of installing solar-powered lamps in the Petionville and Caradeux camps, which housed over 100,000 people who had become homeless as a result of the most devastating earthquake in Haiti’s history. We met on top of the hill, right by the entrance to an emergency medical tent set up to treat refugees, including women who had experienced sexual violence.
As we walked towards the tents that served as temporary housing quarters, the sun went down and obscurity reigned. The tents were packed closely side by side, in the dark, with no privacy and no security. Rudimentary cooking utensils were scattered on the dirt floors of many tents. I experienced a feeling of profound compassion and human connection. Surrounded by people and particularly children who were playing outside in the windy dust, I could sense the dangers that obscurity would bring. As we continued our descent, a halo of light appeared and I became increasingly aware of the heightened feeling of security and safety coming from being able to see. I felt connected to the Haitians around me who were no longer vulnerable due to the darkness of the camp and could only imagine what it meant to all the residents to recognize familiar faces, cook food for their family, and, most importantly, meet one of their most basic human needs.
This solar project, which involved installing 100 solar-powered street lamps in two of the largest camps, Caradeux and Petionville Club, highlights the relationship between light and safety. According to the NGO Solar Electric Light Fund, the organization that implemented the project, reported incidents of violent crime dropped sharply as lighting conditions improved.
The renewable energy publication Inhabitat described the project in more detail: “Hurricane resistant, tamper-proof, and otherwise sturdy street lamps installed at the camps require minimal maintenance. The larger model streetlamp, procured from Port-au-Prince’s Green Energy Solutions, is 20 feet tall with photovoltaic modules on top and two sealed gel batteries inside a secure box connected to high-powered LED lamps. Once the camps are dispersed, the solar street lamps will be moved to other areas. Although the lighting is temporary, its positive impact is permanent and includes diminished crime rates, more time for kids to study, increased commerce, neighborhood camaraderie, and hope for the camp’s many residents”. Lighting has a far-reaching social impact, one that I experienced firsthand in Haiti. Join me and share stories of how solar lighting has impacted your community here.