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A Gift of Renewable Energy, From Buffalo to Haiti

One of Buffalo’s non-profit organizations recently made life much brighter for many schoolchildren and villagers living on a small island off the coast of Haiti. The Solar Liberty Foundation donated and installed a 4-kilowatt solar power system on the roof of the Grace School and Orphanage, located in the village of Grann Plaine, Île-à-Vache, Haiti. 
For the residents of Grann Plaine, this contribution was life changing. Before the system was installed, the school, orphanage and surrounding village did not have any source of power whatsoever. With this new sustainable power source, students, teachers and villagers will now have access to lighting, computers, refrigeration and Internet connectivity. The system also supports a water filtration system that will provide them with safe drinking water.
The Solar Liberty Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living in rural regions of less-developed countries through donation of renewable energy resources. This includes solar electricity, solar water filtration and solar cookers. Steve Biegner, head of Still in One Peace Crisis Services, LLC in Clarence, brought the Grace School to the attention of the Solar Liberty Foundation and led fundraising efforts to get the project off the ground. Biegner’s organization was responsible for raising money to help build the school, which serves as a lifeline for many children orphaned by the 2010 earthquake. The school provides free education to these children and, for some, the only meal they have each day. 

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Another Clarence resident, Craig Rung, channeled his efforts into ensuring the system made it to the island, covering the shipping costs and getting the containers through customs in Haiti. Senator Charles E. Schumer also got involved when the shipment was held up by customs officials, helping to get the container released and on its way to Grann Plaine. 
“After more than a year of planning, lights will be shining bright this holiday season at the Grace School and Orphanage” said Paige Mecca, Executive Director of Solar Liberty Foundation. “Grace School is in such a remote area that getting the solar equipment to the school was a difficult ordeal” she said. “The solar panels, batteries, and all the equipment had to be transported in a small boat to the island. Once the solar equipment arrived on shore, it was then carried by donkeys up rocky terrain for about a mile inland.” 
According to Mecca, the installation crew from Solar Liberty Foundation worked alongside local Haitian electricians to teach them how to install and maintain the off-grid battery backup solar power system. The volunteers spent three days in Haiti working on the project, bringing new hope and opportunity to the 400 students of Grace School and Orphanage. “When we flipped the switch,” Biegner said, “a round of applause could be heard throughout the village and children flocked to the school to complete their homework.”
The system will also allow teachers to utilize online lesson plans, teaching webinars and classroom support. Use of the school’s power will not be limited to its students and teachers, however. The school will become a shared community space, where villagers can charge their cell phones (their only source of communication with the mainland and the U.S.), and students can go to study and read after dark. 

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Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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