The other day, Adam and I spoke with the teachers from Cazeau about how classes are going there. This is their sixth week with this group, which means they’re midway through the new lesson guide, and so far, so good. With half the course behind us, it’s a good time to take a look at everything that came together to make this happen.
Step 1: Get a good group to work with.
You’ll notice that every step of the process is, in the end, a combination of both social and technical engineering. Luckily, we had people on our side with the range of skills we needed.
First off, none of this would have happened without our experienced, enthusiastic partners, Hope for Haiti’s Children. Special thanks to Ken Bever, who orchestrated it all (and bonus, can successfully navigate Haitian traffic jams to do it), and Lisa Hendrick, who first reached out to us.
Ken meets with local teachers, principals, and directors about the project.
All the Haitians behind this project are the true reason for its success. Thanks to them and our Haitian trainers, Junior and Jeanide, for welcoming us to their country and making the learning happen.
Student portrait of a teacher as a hero wielding his secret weapon, the XO laptop.
Finally, our crack team of volunteers… Adam Holt, Tim Moody, George Hunt, Curt Thompson, and his wife Chi worked under the beating sun and long into the night to get electrons flowing and signals broadcasting.
Tim, Curt, and Adam up on the roof to get a better vantage point.
Step 2: Get to know the place and people
One of the first things I did when I got to Haiti, a month before training even started, was visit the site accompanied by Junior and Jeanide. There are lots of questions to answer when you’re attempting something like this. Things like “What happens if the electricity cuts out?” and “Will the wireless signal reach from the school to the church?” but also “What does the principal of the school think of this program?” and “Will we be working with kids from the school, or just from the orphanage?” Visiting early was a way to get a head start on finding the answers.
I took photos of the electrical set-up to give our team a better idea of what to prepare for.
Step 3: Get ready
The week before the big launch, six teachers attended training sessions with me, Junior, and Jeanide. Teaching computers is about so much more than the correct button to press.
Even the teachers sometimes get stumped on our Haiti map quiz.
This group caught on to the basics quickly and then impressed me with creative cartoons, flowcharts, and pictures. They even started getting ahead of us – one teacher asked me if instead of connecting the computers one to another, they could all connect to a central computer. “What you just described is a server,” I told him. “We’ll be getting it here next week.”
Step 4: Get set
“Getting it here” is actually a pretty complicated process, of course. First, the pieces flew down with our tech team. These guys don’t waste time – their first hours in Haiti were spent surveying the site.
The kids are used to doing their homework on the landing, so we made sure the connection would be strong there.
The job was made harder by the fact that we were technically dealing with two locations. The school and orphanage are right next to each other, but the directors didn’t want students crossing into the orphanage side. So we adapted and ended up installing two different access points, one for each place.
George stringing cable over the wall.
Access point installed in the main school room.
I should also mention that the team put together software customized for our Haiti course, so another task was spending a few hours updating all the computers with it.
Chi and Sora testing laptops. That stack in the back is all the ones left to do.
The first day of class, we divided the kids into teams and had a competition to see which one could take the best photos.
Off to take photos.
Teacher guiding the mouse.
Picking out the best photo.
Listening to photo presentations.
Team with the most votes gets a prize.
Show’s not over.
Our work doesn’t end when we leave the location. For one thing, after Cazeau, the team visited three more schools in three days, installing solar power in one and a server at another. But also because even after they got home, they continue to tackle issues like wireless connection difficulties that are so complex they can only be resolved after a stream of emails between smart people all around the world. And, of course, in our monthly conversations with the teachers, they report on their own progress and give us inspiration for new improvements that will make things easier for them and more fun for their students.
It’s been great to be a part of this work and watch the pieces come together. Seeing the kids smiling, sharing, and learning makes all the work worth it.