Access to energy changes lives. We know this, because we see it every day. But as the adage goes, “don’t tell me, show me.” So it’s always exciting when we get a new visitor to our pilot project in Môle-Saint-Nicolas. This August, the Sigora Haiti team was proud to host two-time Oscar nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary filmmaker Jonathan Stack.
To say that Jonathan has a keen eye for a good story would be an understatement, which is why we are pleased to be able to share with you his take on what is unfolding in Môle in this week’s guest post. Read on and enjoy!
Power to the People
I spent this week in Mole St. Nicolas, a tiny town on the very edge of Haiti’s northwest region. We are only about 45 miles to Cuba, so when I listen to the radio, I’m more likely to hear Spanish than Creole, and more Salsa than Kompas. The 9-hour drive from Port-au-Prince is brutal; up and down some of the worst roads imaginable, but when you get to the top of the final mountain, you see a site so beautiful it makes the whole trip worth it.
I am just starting work on a documentary I’m calling, for now, Power to the People. It the story of a small start-up led by a visionary from Romania, a tough and resolute member of the Diaspora and a smart, organized project manager from the US. Their dream is to bring affordable, renewable and reliable energy and Internet service to every Haitian in the country. It’s a big dream and an enormous and challenging job with all kinds of challenges ahead, but to their credit, and to my benefit, they are starting the journey in paradise.
Môle St. Nicolas is a tiny village in the northwest of Haiti, the very place where Columbus landed on his first voyage in 1492 and later, where the French built seven forts, the ruins of which lay strewn throughout the village. Isolated and abandoned, completely deforested and destitute, today Môle is one of the poorest towns in the poorest region of Haiti.
The average life span here is less than 60 years, the average family size about six and unemployment almost 100%. To give some perspective of life in Môle, energy consumption here is closer in volume to that consumed by Stone Age man than it is to a modern American family. Today, despite its spectacular landscape and historical lineage, it is the dream of every person here to escape, and many have, be it by boat to America or the Bahamas or by truck to Gonaive or Port-au-Prince.
Sadly, the world is filled with many Môles; rural communities in impoverished countries whose citizens have no other choice but to leave their homes and head to the cities in search of opportunity. These towns, already lacking sufficient infrastructure turn into mega disasters. The rural communities, now destitute become magnets for development aid, but change, truly organic change, can only occur when the people you are aiming to help are given the tools to become agents of their destiny.
The key to development is access to affordable and reliable energy and nowadays, to the Internet. Energy and information. That’s how people turn dreams into ideas, and ideas into reality. Make it renewable energy and sustainable development and then things get very interesting.
And this is where our story begins.
On December 26, 2015, Sigora Haiti, launched what will eventually become the very first completely solar and wind-powered closed grid in the country. More than just providing the energy, Sigora Haiti will transform the dreams and aspirations of communities of Haitians for whom escape has been their only hope.
Within the first four months of operation, Sigora Solar has already hired 30 men and women who work day and night to build the grid including laying poles and cable, while providing the first 400 families with 24/7 electricity. Another group works inside an office assembling the parts of a “smart meter” that contains the seeds of change all of them desperately desire. For many, it is their first job ever.
People are already paying less than what they previously spent for candles, kerosene, and the rare generator. Everyone in town is clamoring to be “connected”, and you can see the excitement everywhere. There’s a stand where children can now buy ice cream. There’s are freezers where the men store their daily catch. There’s a hospital clinic with medicine previously only available in the city two hours away. Everywhere you look we witness simple, but powerful expressions of entrepreneurship that bubble out when people are given permission and opportunity.
While in the town of Mole—which is remote enough, across the bay, in a tiny fishing village made of 50 one room thatched roof houses—time seems to have stopped entirely. In this community, there is no water, no electricity, no schools and no expectations for much of anything else. Too distant to be connected to the newly constructed Mole grid, in this town, Sigora is launching their “grid in the box” program, and I am here to film it this week. The kit will provide solar energy with a meter in every hut. And if all of that were not enough, within each installed energy meter there is a wireless chip and with it the opportunity to bring the Internet to every family in the village. We will film the transformation of this community over time.
Here they won’t be catching up to the past, but leapfrogging, maybe Jaguar jumping, into the future.
This post originally appeared at the Good Men Project . Reprinted with permission.
About Jonathan Stack
Jonathan Stack is a two time Oscar nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary filmmaker. He tells stories about some of the major problems on the planet; including death row in Louisiana, child soldiers in Liberia and war zones everywhere. You can find him on Twitter @jstack08.