Most of us do not have the opportunity to walk alongside the lives of people living in overwhelming poverty. However, for twenty volunteers who participated in a Watts of Love global trip to Haiti in January, these lives became intertwined, dramatically impacting both volunteers and local residents.
The trip to Haiti, Watts of Love’s second visit to the nation, focused on the rural communities of Thomonde, Mirebalais, and Hinche in the Central Plateau region. These areas are untouched by electricity and modern convenience. Team members also revisited individuals who received Watts of Love lights during a previous 2016 trip to measure the impact of the lights.
Working in close partnership with Fonkoze, a microfinance organization that identifies and supports the ultra-poor (defined as receiving protein fewer than three times per week), Watts of Love reached a community of women in Mirebalais. These women have been working to build sustainable housing for their families. According to the International Women’s Development Agency, women reinvest 90% of their earnings back into their families.
With the extra help from Watts of Love lighting provided during an earlier trip, these women have made incredible strides. Houses have been constructed more quickly and safely because of the gift of light. Nearly 400 additional lights were provided to these hardworking women during this trip, allowing them to continue building on this progress.
Dedicated partner organizations, such as Fonkoze, are critical to Watts of Love’s success. The knowledge and insight of local partners maximizes the impact that Watts of Love can have, truly blessing efforts. Without these local and national partners, volunteers and outreach trips would be unable to get into places where there is little infrastructure and locals are hesitant to trust outsiders.
Stateside many organizations have also provided critical support to Watts of Love. Peter de Keratry, a member of the Order of Malta, a global Catholic organization that has provided grants for light distribution, conveys the importance of understanding the true level of poverty in these areas of Haiti.
“These people deal with starvation level hunger every day. The difference these lights can make is huge. Money saved from not having to purchase kerosene allows these people to eat more consistently and get more protein.”
For the first time, Watts of Love focused on intentionally assisting students, distributing more than 275 lights to students in the community of Hinche. Two dedicated supporters Ernso Sylvain and Father Fritz helped identify student recipients, as well as support the travel team with transportation and excellent translation services. Their support allowed Watts of Love to bless 200 dedicated hardworking students, many of whom walked hours to the distribution site, with their very own solar lamps.
In the more urban atmosphere of Thomonde, Watts of Love focused on distributing lights to disabled individuals. Each person received both a standard lamp and a headlamp. Many arrived with family members who could help get the recipients in and out of the local mayor’s office where the training took place. The range of disabilities was vast, including people with hearing loss, blindness, missing limbs, and those who use wheelchairs and crutches. Watts of Love provided 110 lamps and adapted training methods to meet the needs of each person as much as possible.
Training and education is a key component to the global trips. Rather than simply giving technology to local people, the team sat with every individual to explain how the lights work and must be cared for. Travel team member Christie Dunne explains, “It’s amazing just how foreign pushing a button can be to people. The people we educated and trained have never had a product like this. Even hearing a recorded voice via the MP3 player on the light was a completely new experience for them.”