In 2015 Sigora Haiti partnered with SolarCity and BuildOn to bring light to schools in need in Marc and Menard, located in the South of Haiti, an area dealt a devastating blow by Hurricane Matthew. Following the storm, damage to the cell networks made communications virtually impossible, hampering relief efforts and leaving many stranded out of reach of emergency relief operators.
Concerned about how the communities in Marc and Menard were faring, particularly given the challenges of identifying and reaching communities in need in the immediate aftermath of the storm, our team in Port-au-Prince organized some emergency relief supplies and headed South to Menard, where one of our assistant electricians was able to assist in coordinating the delivery of aid.
Our Operations Director, Drew Lebowitz, provided the following update:
As we neared the affected area, the damage quickly became overwhelming. Entire fields of banana plants, a staple of the local diet, were destroyed. Large stretches of stagnant water pooled in every low spot. The hanging debris showed where the water had risen; even the smallest gullies had swelled beyond their banks and flooded homes, fields, gardens. Every bit of flowing water we saw was chocolate-colored, 5 days after the storm. Crumpled piles of tin roofing littered yards, and soaked clothing hung from the rafters to dry. Many pigs, goats, and donkeys perished in the rains and floods, meaning the loss of the ‘savings bank’ for many of the farming families who were hard up even before the storm.
Yet the sun was out, children were running around playing, the mood was resigned sadness. The community was working together to try to fix roads with a few broken picks and shovels, move trees around, and pick up the tin and wood scattered around. Helicopters buzzed overhead, ferrying supplies in to the worst areas first, near the tip of the peninsula.
We were able to drive to about a 20-minute walk away from Menard, before getting to a ravine that was impassable, with no trees to winch from. After some deliberation we made a deal with the locals to carry the bags of supplies to the school, where they would be dispersed by the committee organized to identify the families most in need. We set out with heads piled with bags, donkeys loaded down, and the palm panniers of a motorcycle brimming with supplies. It took a few trips but we were able to get everything in. We paid our porters in rice, which they were very happy for.
The town was pretty grim – many buildings destroyed, including some large churches. Many houses were intact but had the tin roofing ripped off. I am happy to report that the BuildOn school was totally intact, including the PV modules which were unscathed (I heard the same for the school and modules at Marc). However, there were at least 10 families who were sleeping in the school. There were no serious injuries or deaths in Menard, though several local towns did have many casualties. I would later hear that in Marc, which was harder hit, there were over 500 people in the two school buildings, and there were some injuries but no deaths.
Despite having heard reports of aid trucks being attacked and fights breaking out, we were pleasantly surprised to find Menard quite organized and helpful for the distribution. Wilna and Jean, the leaders of the community, had taken a survey of the affected families and determined who was most in need to receive the packages. They gave out 100 kits, each with 10 lbs of rice, treatment liquid for 50 gallons of water, a tarp with a pound of tie wire, two bottles of cooking oil, and a can of milk. It was a meager ration for any family that lost their home, and we were sad that we couldn’t have brought more. But they seemed to genuinely appreciate the effort and at least some help from the outside. More than anything they mentioned they needed more, and thicker tarps.
The electrical system of the school sustained minor damage and we were able to quickly fix the short and get the system back on line. About 30 seconds after we restored the power the thunderous konpa beats came pouring through the stereo and kids started dancing. About a minute later nearly half the outlets were occupied by cell phone chargers, and everyone was happy to get a ‘ti chaj’ (little charge) so they could send text messages to let people know they were okay.