Two Important things - by Brian Li

Today, I learned two very important life lessons:

  1. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck is the most fun you'll ever have.
  2. Communication is Key.

The day began with a journey in the back of a pick-up truck through the streets of Cabaret. The rush of the wind blowing through our faces and the engrossing view of the surrounding city made this a very memorable experience. Our little adventure quickly turned into a treacherous thrill ride as we wound our way through the steep, underdeveloped roads of Haiti's mountainous regions, heading for our final destination: a community school in the city of Germain.

Upon arrival, we met up with two of the school's leaders. One was named Jellian, the school director, and the other his brother-in-law, Mito. As we discussed the school, we discovered our first roadblock: the school currently closes after 12:30, decidedly limiting the use of our nighttime LED lights. We started discussing possible ways to use the school later in the day, such as holding community meetings or religious events, and discovered that these functions were already fulfilled by a local community center located close by. After lunch, we checked out the community center, and found ourselves face-to-face with an open structure supported by exposed concrete pillars and haphazardly placed wooden struts. Safely installing panels on the building was a questionable proposition at best. Mito was with us, and offered an alternative solution: put the panels and equipment on Jellian's own house. Suspicions immediately arose over the possible ulterior motive, having the panels installed on his home for personal use. However, there were certainly valid points: the house was structurally sound, had greater security than the school, and was a place where people in the village frequently congregated.

However, skepticism remained, inhibiting our discussion. Eventually, Jellian arrived to discuss the situation, and we expressed our desire to install the panels where they will provide the greatest benefit to the most people, as decided by the community. Jellian himself concluded that the electricity would be best used at the community center, and Ben suggested that the panels could be installed on his home, and the electricity wired to the community center. At this point, Mito began to argue that the panels should be installed at the school, as he believed that we had intended to come with that purpose, and should carry it through. By this time, other Haitians had congregated around us and begun adding their own input, and the discussion temporarily splintered into 3 groups: Eric and the two translators discussing how to address the miscommunication, the general debate amongst the Haitians, and the rest of the engineering students trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, Eric explained through the translator that the school was simply a starting point for our search, and we were willing to install the system wherever it would most benefit the community. Mito understood, and the Haitians all agreed to install the system at the community center.

This decision being agreed on, communications opened up elsewhere. Phillippe established friendly conversation with the Haitians as they discussed soccer. Several of us began playing around with Jason's creole phrases book, and exchanging words back and forth with the Haitians. Leslie, Amanda, and Archie played games with the younger kids, teaching them tic-tac-toe and taking turns spelling out and pronouncing each other's names. When we returned later to store equipment in Jellian's house, the Haitians expressed their desire to learn English so that they could communicate with us, and work more effectively on this project.

Overall, communication was key to today's success. Rather than simply choosing a place to slap on some solar panels for our project, a conscious effort was made to find the location where the panels could have the biggest impact on the community, and to ensure it was a community decision. Eric and Ben displayed unending patience in repeatedly communicating the purposes of the project until they were properly understood by the Haitians. Afterwards, camaraderie was established between us as we playfully exchanged broken words in each other's languages, showing a willingness to learn more from each other. As the project moves forward, we will keep communication channels open to ensure its continued success.

Day 1 - by Archie Tram

Today was our first day in Haiti. I think we did a pretty good job in communicating with the Haitian people about the project. They seemed to understand that we want to be their partners so that we can work with them, not for them. As Jason nicely said, we have gotten over the switch point where we and the Haitian people stop questioning and doubting each other, but instead appreciate each other's opinion and truly understand everyone's perspective on the project.

I think Phillippe was one of the causes of today's success. While Eric and Ben were trying to talk to the community leaders (Jellian and Mito), Phillippe used Jason's creole phrases book to communicate with the Haitian gentlemen who were watching us. I believe that's what made the community people engaged in the conversation and, later on, actually talk to us.

I could really see the excitement of those Haitian people. At the end of our conversation, the man in the red shirt (who was like a representative of the community, but not a community leader. Or maybe he was?) said that he is ready to learn and work with us, and the background behind him was filled with nods and sounds of approval from the Haitian people. Another interesting thing was that at the time we got back to the community center after going out for a while, the Haitian people were gathered in a circle studying English phrases. It showed me that they are taking this project seriously, and that it's their intention to make the most out of our time here by improving the communication obstacle in this project.

One last thing I want to take note of from today is the friendliness of rural Haitian people. While we were on our way to the community center, it was common to see Haiti people waving and saying hi to us. Furthermore, while we were having the conversation at the community center, there were people spontaneously bringing chairs to us, wanting us to be comfortable. I remember seeing a kid trying to carry his big study chair-desk combination out for us so that we can have more seats. On that desk, we did ice-breaker games with the kids and played tic-tac-toe with them. Another notable thing was that the kids absolutely did not beg, grab, or try to take anything from us. (It seems like the community director had told the kids not to do it. However, I don't want to generalize the behavior of the kids).

In conclusion, today we have established a good first impression between us and the Haitian people. Everyone is on the same page and is excited to contribute to the project. Hopefully we will maintain and even enhance this kind of relationship between us as the project goes on.

Standing in the fenced-up trunk of a pickup truck, rocking on the rugged rural road, watching the always-burning fire from the hills, here we are again, for the Haiti Empowerment Project.

The Voice of Experience - by Josh Hayes

Today we went to the school in the village of Germaine. The ride up was incredibly long, somewhere near 2 hours. When we arrived at the school we were introduced to the director of the school, Jellium. He took us into his office which doubles as a classroom and told his story of founding the school. We talked about his goals for the school which include starting a third party primary school cycle and a high school and technical school. Upon further discussion, Jellium told us about the old school which is used as a community center. Jellium introduced us to his brother in law, Mito. Mito has a solar system on his home which he uses to power his small radio station. We toured the community center and met some members of the community. We began a discussion with the leaders of the community about our capacity to install panels and where to put them. Jellium's house is right next to the community center and seems to be a community hub. It was decided that it would be best for the community to install the lights and outlets in the community center. After determining the location of the system we explained our philosophy with the Haiti Empowerment Project and the fact that we wish to work directly with the community to install the system. The community was ecstatic to hear that and their interest in the project seems very high!

With this being my second time coming to Haiti with HEP, I was incredibly pleased with the dialogue today. This was the best first day Solar Education & Outreach has had in Haiti. Today's experience shows that the philosophy of Pedagogy of the oppressed and the Haiti Empowerment is not only appealing to us, but is truly appealing to the people we were are trying to empower. I can only hope that the rest of the week goes just as well.

Speaking the World's Language - by Alex Broadstock

Today started off with another ride in a pickup truck. As bad as these rides might sound, I really enjoyed them. They give our group an opportunity to talk and get to know each other while also enjoying Haiti's beautiful scenery. We arrived to a group of young and older Haitian's who were all eager to work with us. Things started out slowly as the plans for the day were getting smoothed out. However, as soon as there was work to be done all the Haitian's swarmed to working stations and began to help. It was very satisfying to see all different age groups being empowered and working together. I specifically remember an elementary school child working frantically to unscrew our solar panel enclosing's. He was completely focused and happy to help. There was a definite sense of community while working to install the panels and it grew as the day progressed. Not only did we create a professional relationship with the communities through our project, but we also connected on a personal level. It really struck me when I was able to connect with almost everyone through soccer. Everyone always labels soccer as the world's language due to the sports popularity, but this idea definitely came into light today. Everyone was so excited to talk to me about Barcelona and the big champions league game today even though we didn't speak a shared language. They even put on a radio broadcast of the game while we were working on the system and one of the Haitian leaders translated for me. Soccer is a sport that is shared by all, and creates experiences that are shared by all. While watching previous champions league games at OSU, I never would have thought that a small village of Haitians would be feeling the same excitement many miles away and in such a different environment. But it doesn't matter how different the situations are. The experience of sport can connect people across the world and across social and cultural barriers. We left the village excited to come back the next day, and excited to work with the Haitian people again. Our day ended with a great group discussion on the beach of the events that happened. As each individual shared their favorite moments so far, I could tell that the group was getting more comfortable with each other and more excited about all the projects. I can tell that the next few days will be an unforgettable and amazing experience.

Learning on Spring Break? - by Phillipe Kenny

Today, a Haitian electrician from the Germaine community thought me more about how a controller box works. This exchange of knowledge was very cool to me because it increased interactions and demonstrated a dialogic method.

General thoughts that have passed through my head so far:

"I love how much I am learning this spring break..." The term "Spring Break" does not normally imply learning. The chances of me hitting books during this 1 week break are 0. However, I've learned so much in the two days I have been in Haiti. This was a result of both the hands-on experience as much as the reflections we have at night. My interest in this project allowed me to learn so much more than the traditional class lectures. The informal teaching, where the veteran members explain to us, the rookies, how the solar system works, taught me so much about engineering. In addition, the nightly reflections have taught me much about how to deal with people, while doing a project like ours, in order to achieve our objectives effectively.

"Politics is present everywhere...." A large part of our after-dinner discussion involved reflecting upon conversations we had with leaders of different groups. This includes the leaders of the Germaine community and the leaders of Act 29. Conflicting intentions influence our decision making and the extent to which we can achieve our objectives.