She's 66 And Finally Getting Electricity. Bring On The Ice Cream! | KUOW News and Information

She's 66 And Finally Getting Electricity. Bring On The Ice Cream!

Apr 9, 2015
Originally published on April 9, 2015 1:56 pm

In the village of Tuffet, a rocky 45-minute drive from the closest city along Haiti's southern coast, several men get down to work in Monique Yusizanna Ouz's rural home. They're wiring up her two-room, dirt floor house with a breaker box, an outlet and a light fixture.

She's 66 years old, and for the first time in her life, she's going to have electricity.

Ouz, who has five grandchildren, wants a refrigerator. She wants cold drinks — for herself but also to sell. And she wants ice cream, too.

"I'll figure out a way to pay for the electricity because it's better when you pay for something," she says. "It doesn't go away then."

Haiti has long been dubbed the Republic of NGOs because of its heavy reliance on foreign donors and international charities. But Ouz says charities come to the village and end up leaving when they run out of volunteers or money.

That's why 38-year-old Duquesne Fednard is bringing a for-profit electricity company to Tuffet. He says Haiti can't survive on philanthropy alone.

"You need an economy that is thriving," he says, "where businesses flourish and create jobs, and that's how you grow a country."

Fednard has three businesses now. Limye Pa w (Haitian Creole for "your light") is the rural electric company. The other two are a data processing service and a company that sells a more efficient version of the charcoal stoves found in nearly every Haitian home. (His model has a special ceramic liner so it uses less charcoal.) He was born in Haiti but left as a teen. In the U.S. he got a master's degree from Columbia University, worked on Wall Street and was a small-business consultant.

"A job in the U.S. to me doesn't have the same impact as a job in Haiti," he says. "Because a job in Haiti means that you are helping 10 people for every job."

Through a college buddy, Fednard got Benjamin Shell, a former microfinance loan manager, to come to Haiti and get the electric company going. "I'd never been to Haiti, I got a really low grade in physics in college, I didn't have any electrical background," Shell says with a laugh. "But I felt confident that I could teach myself."

Like Fednard, Shell subscribes to the same philosophy when it comes to economic aid: A handout is not going to help.

Which brings us back to Tuffet and the rural electric company — and the cold drinks.

As school lets out, children stream onto the main dirt road, walking past newly installed wooden utility poles. About 300 families live here. Most are bean and corn farmers. Shell says Haiti's electricity monopoly, Electricite d'Haiti, has been promising Tuffet electricity for the past 50 years.

"That's how you get elected in any part of Haiti, especially rural Haiti," he says. "You promise to either bring EDH, electricity or improve the service because it's a chief complaint of anybody anywhere."

If Shell and Fednard's plan works, the town will get that service six days a week, 10 hours a day.

Shell opens the door to their electric company's new offices, a huge warehouse just off Tuffet's main road. Inside, the duo will put a generator that's going to be the company's linchpin. It will produce the electricity — not on expensive and dirty diesel but with corncobs. It's a biomass gasifier, a new technology that's had success in other developing countries but has never been used in Haiti. The rest of the warehouse is for drying the corncobs the company will buy from farmers.

"People are almost as excited about getting to sell their corncobs as they are about getting electricity," says Shell.

Already, 65 people have signed up and have spent 1,500 gourdes, about $35, to get their homes wired. Expectations are high for the day the lights go on.

Washing clothes at the town's main water well, Carol Macaus says she can't wait. I immediately thought the first thing she and the other half-dozen women here would want is a washing machine. I was wrong.

Like Ouz, she also wants a freezer so she can sell cold drinks and ice cream. At current estimates, a freezer would cost a family about $25 a month to run.

People here have long wanted to have their own businesses but they need electricity to do that, says town leader Cherie Paul Andres. "If you have a freezer you can create your own business," he says. "So when it comes to pay the electricity bill it doesn't have to come out of my pocket."

That's exactly what Fednard and Shell are hoping for. Not only will the electricity boost living standards and help satisfy the thirst for cold drinks, it'll also spark Tuffet's stagnant economy.

But the day I was with Shell, driving down Tuffet's rocky dirt roads, that dream seemed to be slipping away. He got a call from the group that promised to develop pay-as-you-go electric meters, key to making the company profitable. They told him they definitively couldn't do it.

After two years of struggling, Shell says maybe it's time to accept that bringing electricity to this part of Haiti just can't be done — at least not by him.

"There will be somebody that does it that makes it work in the future, and the work that we've done definitely won't be wasted," he says. "It won't be for nothing."

I left Tuffet a few months ago, not knowing what happened.

So I call Shell to find out. Turns out, he's still there.

I could hear a whirling sound coming from the background. "That's the generator, the gasifier," Shell tells me. "We are using corncobs to make electricity."

Shell found a new company to make the meters, and 30 families are hooked up to the company's grid and getting electricity. More meters are coming, Shell has hired five more employees and Tuffet has one refrigerator and two freezers running. Cold drinks are now being sold in the village.

"We are in business," Shell says.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many troubled places rely on charity and aid distributed through a network of nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, nonprofits. But across Asia, Africa and Latin America, some people are asking if it is better to deliver services through for-profit businesses. In Haiti, some American former college friends are testing that proposition after growing disenchanted with their lives on Wall Street. NPR's Carrie Kahn saw their work in a Haitian village.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the village of Tuffet, a 45-minute rocky drive from the closest city along Haiti's southern coast, several men get down to work in Monique Yusizanna Ouz's rural home.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On, off, libo.

KAHN: They're wiring up her two-room dirt floor house with a breaker box, an outlet and a light fixture. She's 66 years old, and for the first time in her life, she's going to have electricity. Ouz, who has five grandchildren, wants a refrigerator. She wants cold drinks - yes, for herself - but also to sell and ice cream, too.

MONIQUE YUSIZANNA OUZ: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: "I'll figure out a way to pay for the electricity," she says, "because it's better when you pay for something. It doesn't go away then."

She says charities have come to the village and end up leaving when they run out of volunteers or money. Bringing a for-profit electric company to Tuffet is the brainchild of 38-year-old Duquense Fednard. He says Haiti cannot survive on philanthropy alone.

DUQUENSE FEDNARD: You need an economy that is striving where businesses flourish and create jobs and that's how you grow, you know, a country.

KAHN: Fednard now has three businesses - the rural electric company, a data processing one and another that sells efficient cook stoves, an indispensable utility found in nearly every Haitian home. He was born here but left as a teen. And in the U.S., he got a master's degree from Columbia, worked on Wall Street and was a small-business consultant.

FEDNARD: A job in the U.S. to me doesn't have the same impact as a job in Haiti because a job in Haiti means, like, you know, you are helping 10 people for every job.

KAHN: Through a college buddy, Fednard got a former micro-finance loan manager to come to Haiti and get the electric company going. He's Benjamin Shell.

BENJAMIN SHELL: I'd never been to Haiti. I got a really low grade in physics in college (laughter). You know, I didn't have any electrical background, but I felt confident that I could teach myself.

KAHN: And like Fednard, Shell subscribes to the same philosophy when it comes to economic aid. A handout is not going to help. That brings us back to Tuffet and the rural electric company and the cold drinks.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

KAHN: As school lets out, children stream onto the main dirt road walking past newly installed wooden utility poles. About 300 families live here. Most are bean and corn famers. Shell says EDH, Haiti's electricity monopoly, has been promising Tuffet electricity for the last 50 years.

SHELL: That's how you get elected in any part of Haiti, especially rural Haiti, is you promise to either bring EDH, bring electricity or improve the service.

KAHN: If Shell and Fednard's plan works out, the town will get that service six days a week, 10 hours a day.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

KAHN: Shell opens the door to their electric company's new offices just off Tuffet's main road.

This is big.

It's a huge warehouse.

SHELL: The generator will be right over there.

KAHN: That generator is the company's linchpin. It will produce the electricity - not with expensive and dirty diesel, but with corncobs. It's a biomass gasifier, new technology that's had success in other developing countries but never used in Haiti. The rest of the warehouse is for drying the corncobs that the company will buy from local farmers.

SHELL: People are almost as excited about being able to sell their corncobs as they are about being able to get electricity.

KAHN: Sixty-five people have already signed up and have spent 1,500 gourdes, about $35, to get their homes wired. Expectations are high for the day the lights go on. Washing clothes at the town's main water well, Carol Macaus says she can't wait. I immediately thought that the first thing she and the other half-dozen women here would want is a washing machine. I was wrong.

CAROL MACAUS: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: She also wants a freezer so she can sell cold drinks and ice cream. At current estimates, a freezer would cost a family about $25 a month to run. Town leader Cherie Paul Andres says people here have long wanted to have their own businesses, but to do that, they needed electricity.

CHERIE PAUL ANDRES: (Through interpreter) If you have a freezer, you can create your own business. So when it comes to pay the electricity bill, it doesn't have to come out of my pocket.

KAHN: That's exactly what Fednard and Shell are hoping for. Not only will the electricity boost living standards and help satisfy the thirst for cold drinks, it'll also spark Tuffet's stagnant economy. But the day I was with Shell driving down Tuffet's rocky dirt roads, that dream seemed to be slipping away. He got a call from the group that promised to develop pay-as-you-go electric meters, key to making the company profitable. They told him definitively that they couldn't do it. After two years of struggling, Shell says maybe it's time to accept that bringing electricity to this part of Haiti just can't be done, at least not by him.

SHELL: There will be somebody that does it, that makes it work in the future and the work that we've done definitely won't be wasted. It won't be for nothing.

KAHN: I left Tuffet a few months ago not knowing what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

KAHN: So I called Shell to find out.

SHELL: Hello.

KAHN: Hi, Ben? Hi. It's Carrie from NPR.

He's still there.

SHELL: Do you hear that?

KAHN: I hear it.

SHELL: That's the generator, the gasifier. We're using corncobs to make electricity.

KAHN: You're in business.

SHELL: We're in business.

KAHN: Shell found a new group to make the meters and 30 families are hooked up to the company's grid and getting electricity. More meters are coming. Shell has hired five more employees, and Tuffet has one refrigerator and two freezers running. Cold drinks are now being sold in the village. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.