Solar devices are doing double duty in Haiti, opening flexible job opportunities for locals and increasing affordable power access in neighborhoods that lack reliable electricity.
Nancy Goldman, a 40-year-old single mother, lives in a very modest house with her mother, father, sister and 8-year-old daughter, Phaïma, in the Delmas neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
During the January 2010 earthquake, Goldman’s home was badly damaged and since then it has been a constant struggle for her to generate the income needed to fix it. To support her family, Goldman attached a tiny shop to the house that is bursting with boxes, basic food products and other household goods.
“I sell all sorts of items, like chocolates, canned food and cooking oil. But it doesn’t bring me much money; if I’m lucky, it’s about 50,000 gourdes [$800] in a year,” she explains. “It’s enough to survive, but not enough to live.”
In May 2016, things changed when Goldman applied to become a sales agent for solar lights and received her first consignment. A consignment arrangement allows an agent to pay a supplier for the lanterns after selling them, which allowed Goldman to acquire more lamps than she could otherwise afford to buy upfront with cash.
“I needed money to rebuild my house. Becoming an agent for solar products offered me that opportunity. It has completely changed my life,” she said. “I was given the consignment level [of] 15,000 gourdes [$230], which means that I can get eight or 10 solar lanterns at a time to sell.”
In fact, Goldman’s solar sales have steadily grown to be a significant part of her business. She now sells about 15 lamps and 50 “magic bulbs” -- a basic low-wattage LED light bulb with rechargeable solar cells that provides light when the electricity fails -- per month. “I have used the extra money for rebuilding work, but also for school fees for Phaïma,” Goldman says. And she enjoys the benefit of reliable solar light herself.
“Now we always have good light in our home. This has helped us keep active after dark, and it’s also so much safer for my daughter,” she said. “I display several of the lamps in front of my shop at night. Before I had the lamp, it was so dark. The lamp creates an amazing bright light, which attracts customers.”
By the end of 2016, Goldman had nearly reached her goal. She has school fees for her daughter and her home is almost rebuilt.
The Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program, conducted through USAID’s Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment, helps improve access to modern energy services while reducing carbon emissions in Haiti, Uganda, Kenya, India and Nepal.
About the Authors: Pamela Baldinger is a Senior Energy Adviser for USAID and manager of the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP). Yara Akkari is Haiti Project Coordinator for Arc Finance, implementer of the REMMP program.