Walt Ratterman


“A redwood has fallen in the forest,” read a Facebook message posted Monday evening. “And its impact is being felt from Burma, to Sudan, to Peru, to Pakistan, to Rwanda, to Haiti.”

On Sunday night, the remains of Walt Ratterman, philanthropist and co-founder of SunEnergy Power International, were discovered in the rubble of the collapsed Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. Walt had been listed as missing since the earthquake on January 12.

Just prior to the earthquake, Walt had been working with our partners at the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to install solar power systems at a hospital in Boucan Carre, which is operated in a joint partnership between PIH/Zanmi Lasante and the Haitian Ministry of Health. These solar panels helped ensure that electricity (to power lights and medical equipment) was one less thing the staff had to worry about when they began treating patients injured in the Earthquake—a stark contrast to hospitals on the traditional electric grid that were forced to care for patients and even perform surgeries via candles and flashlights (read more).

Installing solar panels at the Boucan Carre hospital last year.


“Walt was brilliant, tireless, resourceful and passionately committed to social justice,” said Ted Constan, PIH Chief Program Officer. “He possessed a rare combination of technical expertise and sensitivity to the complexities of working in the developing world.”

SunEnergy Power International, the  nonprofit co-founded by Walt, works in 30 countries to promote renewable energy in remote, rural regions of the world. They do this by not only installing the equipment, but also  training local technicians on how to design, install, and maintain systems so that they are sustainably maintained for years to come. Walt ensured that building local capacity was a priority for every project he worked on.

“He kept our focus not just on installing equipment, but on building the human capacity locally for a sustainable future. We all miss our friend profoundly, and will honor his life by continuing to fulfill his vision,” said Ted.

Before working to install the solar panels at Boucan Carre, Walt had also worked with our partners to provide solar power and train local technicians at health clinics in rural Rwanda, Burundi, and Lesotho.

“The lights that [Walt] turned on out here in our rural health clinics two years ago are still on!” wrote Jeremy Keeton from PIH’s project in Lesotho. “Women deliver babies in rooms lit by [him], doctors work with x-ray machines and lab equipment to see what ails our patients instead of trying to guess… [Walt] touched people all over the world with his compassion, diligent work, and humanity.”