In Memory of Walt Ratterman

“To know one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, SELF received devastating news—our colleague, Walt Ratterman, had been in the Hotel Montana in Port au Prince just six minutes before the quake hit, and had not been heard from since. Over the next four weeks, as rescue teams struggled to search the ruins of the once esteemed hotel, we hoped that somehow—against the odds—Walt had made it through. Sadly, on Monday, February 8, we learned with certainty of his death.

Walt’s selfless devotion to people less fortunate is legendary. Often on the road for as much as 60% of the year, he was a true solar hero, and had been an integral part of SELF’s work on the ground for the last several years. Beginning with an installation for Partners In Health (PIH) in Rwanda in 2006, he helped SELF implement our solar systems and train villagers in the local communities. Walt continued to work with SELF and played a key role in our projects in Benin, Lesotho, Burundi and, most recently, Haiti. Below, captured in photographs, are some of our favorite memories.

“Walt was probably the best installation manager I’ve ever seen in the field. He worked harder than anybody I’ve ever known—would supervise crews through long days and then hold training sessions half the night—and the crews loved him for it and couldn’t get enough. Walt was someone we could ask to do anything without having to worry about it being done right—he was the ultimate professional.”

Jeff Lahl, SELF Project Director

“Walt was a true solar maestro. For him, there was no problem that was too big to take on, or environment that was too intimidating to operate in. But what I loved about Walt most was his indefatigable spirit, his mountain of compassion, and relentless drive to make the world a better place by teaching the poor and disadvantaged how to tap into and draw sustenance from the boundless energy of the sun.”

Robert Freling, Executive Director

In 2007 Walt formed SunEnergy Power International (SunEPI) , a nonprofit dedicated to implementing humanitarian renewable energy projects in remote, rural regions of the world. Operating as SunEPI, Walt continued as SELF’s partner in the 2009 installation of a 10 kW hybrid diesel system at PIH’s clinic in Boucan Carre, Haiti—a first of its kind in the Caribbean basin. SELF will continue this work at the nine additional PIH clinics in Haiti.

While every death is tragic, this one is truly felt around the world, for Walt’s life and work touched tens of thousands of people in developing countries on nearly every continent. What we know for certain, however, is that Walt would want, more than anything, for each of us to go on living, to not waste a moment in sorrow, but instead to cherish every breath as filled with the possibility of benefiting another human life.


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Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in more than 25 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power such as for drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rain forest, online learning in South Africa and microenterprise development in Nigeria.

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