Parsons students bring quality illumination to light-deprived Haitian community

(USA) – Students in art and design school’s Lighting for Developing Countries class lead installation of solar-powered light poles in Gran Sous, Haiti.

Students from The New School’s Parsons School of Design worked with residents of Gran Sous, Haiti and Roots of Development (ROD), a Washington, D.C.-based community development group, to bring quality illumination to the light-deprived community through the installation of solar-powered light poles.

Led by Parsons faculty member and alumnus Chad Groshart, six students in the Parsons’ Lighting for Developing Countries class traveled 1,500 miles from their New York City classroom to the remote mountain village of Gran Sous to help locals develop, source, and install solar-powered lighting fixtures on five 25-foot-tall poles. The project has had an immediate social and economic impact on the community: residents can now travel more freely and meet for social gatherings after dark.

The culmination of a semester-long study on light poverty in less developed countries, the project embodies Parsons’ commitment to using design to confront pressing social issues.

“Through this project, our students have demonstrated that lighting design has the power to improve the quality of life for an entire community,” Groshart said. “Not only does light allow the community to socialize, study, and sell goods after dark, it is also seen as a marker of progress that will help it to attract more partners to advance development.”

Through each stage of the project, Groshart and his students focused on a homegrown approach to development: The team sourced needed gear from local vendors and worked closely with community residents on the design and installation of the lighting system.

“The idea of development shouldn’t come from us, but from the community with which we’re working,” Groshart said. “There’s a long history of outside organisations with good intentions bringing ill-begotten solutions to Haiti. Our approach, which mirrors the approach of Roots of Development, is to give the community the tools they need to drive their own progress.”

Responding to a request from The Professional Association for the Development and Advancement of Gran Sous (La Gonave), a local community group established by Roots of Development, Groshart and his students worked with local residents to develop an action plan to bring public lighting to their community. Together with residents of Gran Sous, students dug holes for the lights and set them in concrete. The evening of the installation, Groshart and his students were awestruck by the transformation in the community: residents, relishing the new source of light, set up dominoes and card tables while vendors sold snacks.

However, basking in the glow of their newfound resource was not enough for the residents of Gran Sous. Not long after the lights came on, the community was already reaching out to their government, international organisations, and outside communities to strategise ways of expanding lighting to other parts of Haiti.

“After we completed the task of installing several solar lighting fixtures around Grand Sous, the faces of the residents told an entire story in one glance,” Alexander Valencia, MA Architecture ‘17, said. “They were proud of their lights and everyone in La Gonave was excited about the development. But more important than their sense of pride was their sense of connection to the larger community of Haiti and the rest of the world.”

The project was sponsored by Atelier Ten Foundation, Bartco Lighting, Lumenwerx Lighting, and USAI Lighting.