by Alki Delichatsios and Greg Levin
We come from very different places and backgrounds, have diverse interests and check in at extraordinarily divergent heights. We also each have great friends who independently and fortuitously introduced us to EarthSpark International. We are both transitioning from one career path to another (Alki was in Nuclear Recycling in France, Greg was in Sports Retail in South Africa and Germany), and were excited to take some time to volunteer with the dynamic team that is EarthSpark in its operating base in beautiful Haiti. Our goal was to help professionalize EarthSpark’s retail business practices and lay the groundwork for its impending expansion.
It’s difficult to overstate how important the experience of being on the ground was to our understanding of the work this organization does, and the constraints that it exists within. It’s all too easy to forget the inherent difficulties of life and business from the blessed ease of home. The challenges of a deficient infrastructure, nonexistent public transportation and insufficient access to information are so much more apparent in person. For instance, we didn’t get to Les Anglais until four days after we planned. Why? Because there was a storm that flooded the river and washed away the road from Port-a-Piment to Les Anglais – which by the way, happens every time there’s a big storm. Even days after the rain had stopped when we finally made our way to Les Anglais by a road so bumpy only big cargo trucks could manage (on which we were lucky to find a ride instead of doing the 10-mile hike by foot as previously planned), we had to wade hip-level deep with our bags on our heads to cross the football field-length river. Let’s just say that “supply chain difficulties” takes on a whole new meaning now.
We’ve both been lucky enough to have previously spent time in areas of varying levels of development, but the challenges we were introduced to in Haiti were of a different scope than we had known. We were both humbled and inspired by this. The challenges EarthSpark faces are real and they are many, but they are also interesting and they are (hopefully, eventually) solvable.
The staff of the Les Anglais Magazen Enèji Pwòp is par for the course when it comes to the people affiliated with EarthSpark; passionate, energetic and fun. All were caring and gracious in helping the two of us understand their community, business and goals. The management team of Jean Noel and Jacquelin, as well as Pedro, the store’s technician and one of its sales agents, were excellent guides to their town, and truly ambassadors for it.
In getting to know the products and their true benefits we were able to be much more effective in improving EarthSpark’s back-end plans and processes. By visiting local homes and businesses, the need, use and effectiveness of the products came to life in front of our eyes. Going local was the difference between thinking we understand something in theory, and realizing that we can only ever truly strive to understand part of a practice.
Walking down the pitch black streets of town at 7pm, it’s hard to not wonder when the power will be turned back on. It’s easy to forget that the blackout is by no means temporary - it is the everyday reality. When you see children sitting outside under streetlights, or any other sources of light they can find, squinting over books, the deeply unfair realities of their situation refuses to be ignored. Once you’ve seen it firsthand, finding a sustainable way to help these kids, and the others like them who will follow becomes no longer a choice but an obligation.
We were lucky and pleased to be able to meet a host of impressive EarthSpark colleagues and collaborators. From the partners at Digicel to the new clients in the back of Tap Taps, people are engaged and excited to be working with EarthSpark. One of the more exhilarating moments of the trip was learning that Rene Jean-Jumeau, a good friend of the organization and a truly inspiring man, who we were privileged to meet, had been named Haiti’s first Secretary of State for Energy. How fortuitous to be working towards sustainable clean energy in Haiti at a time when the Government is acknowledging its importance and beginning to make strides in the right direction.
While our time in Haiti was short, it was most definitely meaningful. Our hope was to help the organization and of course to pick a little knowledge up along the way. As is to be expected, we got the lion’s share of the deal. There’s just no way that we could give to EarthSpark in equal measure to what we received. With this in mind, we have both decided to stay as actively involved as we can from afar, and we’re working on finding ways to get back down to Haiti and see if we can’t even out the ledgers a little bit!
All the best from Phoenix, Boston, Les Anglais and everywhere else in between,
Alki & Greg
For more reading related to Alki and Greg’s experience with EarthSpark in Haiti, check out their personal blog posts:
Alki, October 26th 2011
Greg, October 27th 2011
Greg, November 14th, 2011
Greg, November 16th, 2011
Greg, November 22nd 2011