Haiti. It is a country that I knew little about. I was aware that it is a poor nation, in fact, the poorest in the western hemisphere. I had heard that the 2010 earthquake killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people. However, I had no direct connection to Haiti and knew very little else besides the few bumper sticker headlines that I had seen over the years.
That changed in late 2013. That December, I was approached by MamaBaby Haiti. This non-profit runs a birthing center in Vaudreuil, on the outskirts of Cap-Haitien, a city of about 190,000 people. At their maternity clinic, they provide free prenatal, birth, and postpartum services to expectant mothers.
First floor of clinic: birthing & postpartum rooms
The birthing center was not tied to the grid. The entire facility was powered by a small gas generator. They could only afford to fire it up for 2 hours a day – just long enough to run the water pump to fill their roof-top water holding tank.
Mamababy was only requesting a feasibility study for a solar installation with batteries. Well, I started talking with my employees and suppliers. One thing led to another, and a few months later, we were involved in a full out effort to provide a battery / solar power system for the clinic.
Power source and water tank
We are fortunate to be surrounded by generous people and organizations that were ready to help out. A local electrical and solar distributor, CED Greentech, immediately stepped up to donate the bulk of the solar equipment that we needed, and got Outback Power Systems to donate a 3kw off-grid inverter. We started a Crowdrise campaign and raised over $4500 from friends, family, and the community, including donations from a few of our friendly local competitors!
Once we raised the money and secured the equipment, there was an 18 month delay before the stars would align to allow us to push this project over the finish line. Earlier this year we finally had the equipment shipped to Haiti and booked our tickets for the installation.
Arrival at Cap Haitien International Airport
Install day 1
Two Native employees (myself and designer, Elijah Johnston-Heck) flew down with former employee Chris Renner (now owner of solar contractor Renner[G]) to install the system. We arrived in Cap Haitien on July 11 and immediately got to work tracing out the clinic electrical system, inventorying parts, and formulating a game plan.
The weather was hot and humid, not unlike Austin’s summer weather. There was no air conditioning in the concrete building, and in order to stay cool, we slept out on the roof of the building.
Traveling in Haiti
Planning out the rooftop system
Install Day 2
We spent most of the day installing the inverter, batteries, and interconnecting into the electrical system. Since we started the project, the hospital did manage to connect to the grid, but the grid is typically available about 2-10 hours a day and its operation is completely unpredictable.
Install Day 3
Most of the third day was spent installing the solar array. A box of parts went missing somewhere between Austin and Haiti, and it took us a few days to scrounge for suitable replacement parts, but by day 3 we were ready to get the solar installed!
Install Day 4
Power on! We spent the day testing different power scenarios to make sure that the system would operate properly. We also trained the local workers on how the system operates.
Install Day 5-6
We budgeted an entire week to do this project since we did not know what to expect. Luckily we had a couple days to see some of the Haitian sights. What a beautiful country.
We had an incredible experience in Haiti. I again want to thank all those donors that made this adventure possible. We were very impressed with the work that Mamababy is doing in Haiti. There were about 30 births at the clinic while we were there. Now, they will at least have reliable power day and night to continue to care for the expectant families of Cap Haitien and Vaudreuil.