Sunday, January 4, 2015

Final Reflection

            Sean Collins
ML 390
Professor Law-Sullivan
January 4, 2015
I have for a long time been fascinated with technology.  Computer and information technology has brought with it tremendous potential.  A child with a smart phone in Africa has greater access to information than the president did 30 years ago.  My fascination with technology and my desire to become a teacher lead me to contact One Laptop per Child.  The organizations mission was just that. To give a piece of technological hardware to each kid in the developing world. They distributed close to 3 million units worldwide.  OLPC failed to provide much follow up though.  Their distribution was a roaring success, but they failed to provide the necessary tech and educational support to make the project sustainable.  OLPC put me in contact with an organization called Unleash Kids.  Unleash Kids was set up by former OLPC people to be the support team.  The non-profit works in countries all around the world updating software and providing education using the laptops as tools.    I started my Haitian voyage in February of 2014 when I began learning Haitian Creole, and studying the XO laptops’ hardware and software.  I continued to educate myself on Haitian history, culture and current events throughout the spring and summer.  Fall came and I flew down to Haiti to start my three month journey. 
             I began my voyage in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.    Landing in the airport you are thrown right into the chaos that is the city.  Taxi drivers line the exit reaching for your bags and telling you that they are there to pick you up.  I had arranged a ride beforehand and informed them that I did not need their services.  I got in contact with my driver and he drove me to my first location, Haiti Communitere.  It became my home base whenever I was in the city.  The next 10 days were spent bouncing around the city teaching at various schools.  My first day was spent visiting with a cellphone company to get myself a SIM card.  I was met by Haitian translator named Jeanide and we ventured into the city.   My first impression of the city was overwhelming.  I first noted the condition of the road leading up to the intersection, it was run down and riddled with holes.  We got to the main road and crossed the path that ran over the drainage ditch.  I was taken aback by the amount of trash that lined the sidewalk, road, and ditch. Plastic bags, Styrofoam take out containers, plastic and glass bottles, everywhere I looked I saw trash.  I watched my step as we walked toward the intersection.  As we grew closer it got more and more crowded, and the street vendors started to pop up.  Not many white people live in or visit Haiti, and out of the ones that do, very few roam the city.  I drew a lot of attention from the street vendors anxious to make a sale.  These vendors sell anything from computer parts, to shoes, to shampoo.  Haiti has super markets, but the traditional style market place environment still thrives. 
We crossed the street and climbed into the back of a brightly colored truck with benches on either sides.  I received intrigued looks from all the passengers and greeted them in Creole. We drove a while up the road and I was able to see more and more of the city outside truck.  The country is still struggling five years after the quake, and still many live in temporary shelters.  Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps are set up right off of the main roads.  The shelters are nothing more than tarps draped over crude frames, and still today they house thousands of people.  We continued up road and drew closer and closer to Petionville, an upper class community just outside of Port-au-Prince.  The city of Petionville houses delegates, government officials, and majority of the wealthy elite.  The shacks slowly turned into building and the building slowly grew nicer and nicer.  The disparity was quite obvious, and I did not need to be told when we made it to our destination.  The buildings became more and more industrial, and the streets became cleaner.  The cars became more luxurious, as did the style of the average person.  There were far less street vendors, and far more shops.  We had only traveled a few miles, but it seemed a world away. 
Upper level education in Haiti is done in French. There is very little creole resources for learning so the emphasis is understandable.  In Port-au-Prince the signs are in Creole. “Pa bwe li w’ap kondi” “Don’t drink and drive” is a sign in creole that you see in the capital.  When you get to Petionville the signs switch to French. “J’ (heart) PV” Is a clear play on the “I (heart) NYC” concept. The creole way to do so would be Mwen (heart) PV.  But the advertiser chose to use French instead of creole.  It seems strange, but it is an accurate reflection on the correlation between language, education, and social status.  Whites and Mullatos (half white half black), are more often than not members of the wealthy elite, which is a product of the country’s imperial history.  As a result of this, more often than not I was greeted in French rather than Creole.  “Como sa va?” is how the French ask “how are you?”  In Creole the way to ask is “Koman ou ye?” I came to learn both and how to respond to either, but it was an interesting assumption being made.
We arrived at our destination in Petionville and Jeanide and I walked into the air conditioned 15 story building. We waited around for a while, but eventually my questions were answered and I was able to get what I needed.  I was set up with 10 GBs of data a month to keep me connected.  We journeyed back to Communitere and began to lesson plan for the week ahead.  I set up a series of science related lessons that would use the laptops to teach the kids the scientific method, while exploring different concepts.  I plan to eventually become a high school physics teacher, so it was good to get a sneak preview of what I will be doing.  The younger kids especially are always excited to have a guest teacher.  The Haitian education system is 90% private. The emphasis at these private schools are almost always on test scores, and fact based retention.  I fundamentally disagree that this is an effective model for education, and was happy to bring some hands on learning.  With the kids in Port-au-Prince, we did sound experiments, played music, and built rockets using the XOs as tools.  The classes and the kids in them helped me form amazing memories that I will cherish forever. 
After my stay in Port-au-Prince I headed west to Grand Goave.  There I stayed with Pastor Lexidan Edime, and his wife Renee.  The couple helps run a school of around 300 kids from the surrounding town. Grand Goave is a beach community, and it is an even more laid back atmosphere than Port-au-Prince.  My first day there was Sunday and I joined the pastor and his wife on their trip to church. I am not religious by any means, but I can appreciate what it means for a lot of people.  I was raised catholic and have been to church plenty of times, but Haitian church is unlike any other.  The people pulled out their nicest clothes, and piled in one by one.  The service began and the music got the congregation on their feet moving to the rhythm.  The people were more engaged than any church goers I have ever seen.  So many Haitians really seem to rely on their faith.  I assume because of the hope that it brings.  Life in Haiti is unfortunately difficult.  A kid born in Haiti does not have nearly the same chance at social mobility that a kid in the states does.  I was fortunate enough to have the chance pursue my dream on teaching, but for a lot of the kids in Haiti, they do not have the resources to follow their dreams.  Religion gives people hope, and purpose.  The hard life is forgotten and instead it is replaced by faith.  I remain agnostic, but I definitely have a new found appreciation for what religion can mean to people. 
During my three weeks in Grand Goave I taught two classes a day every day.  This gave me the chance to develop relationships with my students, and teach them to be self-reliant with technology.  It was amazing to see the transformation with each kid start to finish.  The shy older kids slowly came out of their shells and began to explore the laptops more and more.  The preloaded Wikipedia software sparked their imagination and I was happy to explain any questions that arose.  My time in the beach community was well spent.  I will hold onto the relationships I formed there for a long time.  There were some truly inspiring kids and I think of them often. 
From Grand Goave I headed northeast to Hinche.  There I did a lot of technical work repairing the school server.  The bureaucracy that exists at the school was extremely difficult to work through, but eventually I was able to get things squared away.  The weekend before I left I went to a tourist attraction in Hinche called Bassin Zim.  The park is home to a brilliant waterfall and a few caves. The local kids serve as tour guides on the weekend.  A group of 5th graders took me up the path and helped me along showing me the sights.  Between my Creole and their English we were able to talk and we had a fun time climbing, running, and swimming.  The kids were happy to have me and I was happy to see them.  After we finished our adventure I said my goodbyes, I went back and got some rest.  The next day it was back to the city for a few days.  
Back in Port-au-Prince I had to do some more technical work repairing school servers.  We unloaded from our van and hoped into a truck.  I remember this moment distinctly because as we loaded in a woman with a three year old child and a sack of potatoes climbed in.  She was worried about her small child sitting at the back of the truck, so she simply passed him forward to a complete stranger.  The Haitian community really is looking out for each other. The woman got off at her stop and we passed the kid along to her.  She thanked us and was on her way.
My final stop on my trip was Bois D’Avril.  It is an extremely small village in the mountains, and it is unlike any place in Haiti, or the world that I have ever been.  There I stayed with a Baha’I couple John and Deb.  The two moved there 35 years ago and raised their three kids there.  Their house sits on the top of a hill at 6000 feet elevation.  The house is less than 10 miles from Port-au-Prince, but the elevation and seclusion makes it seem like you are in a place more like the Upper Peninsula.  Pine trees and open fields are everywhere. The village sits just below John and Deb’s house, and is home to about 25 people.    I took my brother here and he agreed that it truly is paradise.  The people do not see much outsiders but were extremely welcoming. Whenever I decide to visit Haiti again, I will for sure be paying the village a visit. 

My Haitian voyage was a long journey full of plenty of adventure.  I was nervous going in, but I was fortunate to meet some great people who put my mind at ease. The support I received from people on the ground and back home was extremely valuable, and I am grateful for it.  The people I got to know and the experiences I have had will last me for a life time.  I went in wishing to fulfill a dream and I could not be happier with the result. I hope that I have impacted the lives of those kids as much as they have impacted me.  For most, it is a tough road ahead. I just hope that I sparked their imaginations and gave them some hope.                   

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bois D'Avril

Following my time in Port-au-Prince, Jeanide and I traveled up to the tiny Village of Bois D’Avril.  We met John and Deb in Petionville and took a quick detour to the grocery store.  There I was able to pick up a phone charger for myself, and a piece of cheesecake to split with Jeanide.  It was her first time encourntering the rich creamy delicacy, but she enjoyed every bite.  6,000 feet above sea level is where Deb and John call home.  They are a lovely Baha’i couple who are originally from Canada.  They moved to Haiti 33 years ago and moved up into the mountains just before the earthquake.  Their house sits just above the village and offers a brilliant look out into the mountains southward.  This is what the sunrise looks like just outside the bedroom door where I slept.

Upon waking up I got right to teaching. Friday, the first day, I let the kids explore on the laptops to see what they knew.  It was evident they had used the laptops before, but I knew there was plenty of potential for progress.  The kids messed around on the piano activity, took pictures, and played games.  After finishing class we pulled out the soccer ball and played a game in the open field.  I held my own but was struggling to catch my breath by the end.  I called it quits and got to experience a warm shower thanks to the home’s solar heated shower. 

The weekend came and I spent majority of my time working on papers for my Independent Studies at Oakland.  I have successfully wrote my 20 page paper on the effectiveness of earthquake relief in Haiti, and have begun writing the three others. Two papers are for Global Political Philosophy, in which I will explore the reliance on aid, and the idea of Cosmopolitanism. The last is for Modern Language, and it will be a reflection on my trip, with a focus on my exposure to a new culture and language.  I will post them here when the editing phase is complete. 

In between my periods of creative brilliance, I took a few breaks to go on some adventures.  Saturday Jeanide and I headed to a place called Mon Sel, or Salt Mountain.  There is a reservation there called L’Haiti de Demain, or the Haiti of tomorrow.  The reservation was a 3 or 4 mile walk through some winding paths, and sat just off a dirt road.  The park consists of 2 tennis courts, a playground, a soccer field, a restaurant, and countless gardens.  It seemed oddly placed and no one seemed to be home when we arrived. We walked around to the side entrance and the gate was open.  Jeanide and I walked quietly, hesitant to draw attention, but eventually we were met by staff.  The explained they were not open, but Jeanide convinced them to let us at least look around for 10 minutes.  We walked around the premise and saw as much as we could.  Things moved a little slower than I had hoped with Jeanide stopping to have me take pictures for her Facebook page, but it was a lovely slice of Haiti. We stopped and had the groundskeeper take a photo. He had never used a camera before, but was able to capture my radiant good looks quite well. We took a motorcycle back, and arrived just in time for dinner. 

Sunday I wrote some more, but took a break to go to a picnic with Jeanide and John.  There I met a bunch of people working with their own governmental and non-governmental organizations.  A lot of them had been in Haiti for a long time and had some cool stories to tell.  I enjoyed some carrot cake, chased some kids through a field, and socialized with the adults.  The walks back and forth were absolutely breathtaking.  You start off in a forest of pine trees that opens up to an open field of farms and cliff faces.  You trek along the narrow goat path up and down left and right before arriving to the property that sits on the edge of a drop off.  I plan to take Paul to Bois D’Avril next week Wednesday. 

Throughout the week I taught, on average, 3 classes a week.  The ages ranged from kindergarten to 5th grade.  With the Kindergarteners it was hard to be productive. It is nice to get the kids excited about technology, and it is good for them to get an understanding of how to use it, but there isn’t room for much else.  The 5th graders is a different story.  The have access to the Internet-in-a-box (iiab) hardware, so they have the ability to read Wikipedia, access khan academy, and download other education software.  I spent the week getting them equated with its ins and outs. 

We finished off the week with a class for the teachers on how to use iiab.  The information on there is mostly in French or English, so having the teachers well versed is essential.  They are the ones who benefit the most.  They can walk the kids through the articles translating what it says, or they can learn something new for themselves and teach a lesson on it later.  The teachers took well to it and made some great progress. They are now in Sora’s capable hands, and I’m sure she can help them progress further. 

I am now back in Port-au-Prince at Haiti Communitere. Paul comes tomorrow and we will spend my last week in Haiti together.  I’ll take him around to a few of my favorite places.  We will start in PAP and visit 3 or 4 of the schools here, then we will spend 2 days in Grand Goave at Mission of Hope.  From there we will head into the mountains to Bois D’Avril for 2 days, and then it’s back to PAP so that we can catch out flights out on the 20th.  I really should be working on editing and citations so I’m going to cut this blog post short.  I should have plenty more to say, and I will be sure to post my papers on here when I am finished. 

Hang on,


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Port-au-Prince: Round 3

I’ve spent my time since the last post back in Port-au-Prince.  Once again I’m staying with the fine people here at Haiti Communitere.  I spent the first week working at Cazeau with Dyna and Johnny Laine.  Dyna is a teacher at the school who runs an after school XO program on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  In our 2 lessons together, Dyna and I taught typing, and showed the kids how to do research using Internet-in-a-box (iiab). iiab is a terabyte hard drive containing all of Wikipedia in multiple languages, and other educational software.  We explained to the kids how to use the search feature and asked a few basic questions for them to look up.  The young group quickly grasped the concept so we let them explore for the rest of class.  One little girl stumbled upon the page for feminism. I thought it a great photo op, but she had more important matters to attend to. It’s amazing to see what sparks the kids’ curiosity.  Giving them the ability to explore and learn is a wonderful feeling.

Between my two days with Dyna, I helped Johnny Laine teach an English class to the kids in the orphanage.  Johnny is a Haitian who works for Ken Bever at Hope for Haiti’s Children. He teaches English to the kids twice a week.  We started off the class by walking through and learning words and their pronunciation. Next I read the class a story, and sentence by sentence they repeated after me. Although this was cute, I wasn’t really impressed until the next step. I read the story in English again, but this time Johnny had the kids translate it into Creole.  The class translated in unison and did so perfectly.  We read another story and then I asked each of them individual questions.  The English class was especially easy to teach and was a nice break from my regular lesson plans.  Below are a few students from the class. 

That Thursday was also Thanksgiving.  The holiday is not celebrated in Haiti for obvious reasons, but I was staying with a bunch of Americans, so we had our own party.  The day before, people went out and bought some live turkeys and let them roam the compound.  Then Thursday people were here all day cooking.  There was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes pie for dessert.  We all pitched in $10 and that paid for some live entertainment too.  A talented musician from the city brought his guitar and played a few songs for us while we ate. It wasn’t the same, but it was a nice taste of home.

That weekend I helped out around Communitere doing chores.  Michael is a middle aged volunteer from the UK. He had been cleaning the storage closet out all week, and recruited me to help him sort through some old electronics.  We went through 3 or 4 boxes of gadgets left behind, and found some really cool stuff.  The first thing that caught my eye was a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  We kept digging and found 3 laptops, dozens of walkie talkies, and more than enough wires.  I hooked up the NES as soon as I had time and tried to get it working. The conventional techniques weren’t working (blowing the dust out of the cartridge), so I ended up disassembling it to better diagnose the issue.  The 72 bit connector that the game plugs into was bent out of shape. I bended it back into place, and after a few tries we got it working.  The next day I checked through the computers and was able to salvage a laptop.  I offered to pay the people at Communitere for it, but they were just happy to clear up some space.  I dropped the laptop off at Cazeau, and it will be sent to one of our teachers at a later date.

I’ve spent this week bouncing around between Cazeau, Croix-des-bouquets, and Silar’s orphanage.  At Silar’s I had to document all the information of the electrical appliances he uses.  The plan is to later convert his electricity from 110 volts to 24 volts.  At Cazeau I did some more work on the internet, including installing a new Ethernet cable. The idea is to permanently install an access point in the principal’s office so that the kids can connect whenever.  I spent my time in Croix-des-bouquets with Jeanide and Junior.  They are two Haitians who I have worked with in the past.  They have recently started their own English school and are teaching once a week.  I went around with them and talked to some potential students about joining.  We went and visited one school down the road from where they hold class, and we talked to a few classes before and after recess.  During recess the older kids played soccer in the yard.  I joined in and showcased by very limited skill.  The Haitian sun is unforgiving and after 20 minutes I tapped out with my team up 1-0.  By the end of the recess we lost 6-2. My team needed me but I was spent. 

We taught a class on Saturday and had a pretty good turnout.  We went through some basics, “What is your name?” “What do you like to do?” “How old are you?”.  One girl told me she liked to sing.  Junior asked her if she would sing for us.  She seemed very shy so I tried to make her a deal.  I told her I would sing if she would.  I held up my end of the bargain, she did not.  Nevertheless the kids enjoyed my performance.  We talked for a little longer and the kids told me about their families and what else they liked to do.  It was a great group of kids and their English will only continue to get better with the help of Jeanide and Junior.  Depending on when my brother Paul lands, I may take him to visit the English class with me when he arrives on December 13th

The final place I’ll be working at is Bois d’avril up in the mountains.  I’ll be heading there tomorrow and returning the 12th.  After that I will show Paul around Haiti. I definitely plan to pay a visit to Mission of Hope in Grand Goave. I spent 3 weeks there and want to say hello to some of my favorite students.  We will go all around Port-au-Prince, and maybe back up into the mountains. It seems surreal that my work in Haiti is coming to an end.  I know I’ve accomplished a lot, and I have enjoyed every second, but the work is far from done.  It’s hard to be informed and optimistic for the future of Haiti.  There are wonderful people here, Haitians and foreigners alike.  I just hope that their good intentions produce good results. 

Hang on,


Sunday, November 23, 2014


After saying goodbye to Herodion in Hinche, Ruben and I headed to Lascahobas to take on our next assignment.  We loaded into a van and were on our way.  The van was packed door to door.  Myself and 19 other people rocked back and forth as we ventured over the poorly maintained dirt road.  We reached the pavement and from there the ride was much better. Just as I started to doze off, our driver abruptly pulled over to the side of the road.  He went around to his front right tire, examined it, and then began to jack up the car.  We all piled out and moved over to the shade.  The driver decided that the highway was the best place to change his break pad. The passengers were none too pleased, and the general consensus was that the driver knew the problem existed long before we left, but didn’t want to delay and miss out on the money from a van full of people.    We impatiently waited while he finished up, and within an hour we were on our way once again. 

My instructions upon arriving in Lascahobas were to ask a motorcycle to take me to Bernadette’s house. Adam ensured me that they would know the way.  Lascahobas is a smaller town and Bernadette is a big name in the community, everyone knows and respects her.  We arrived and the driver knew just where to go. I paid him and we went inside.  Bernadette is an eccentric character whose friendly personality and hard work has made her a local celebrity.  She runs a school just up the road from her house and has quite the arsenal of XOs.  Unlike most schools, Bernadette’s school signs the laptops out to the students who take them home and bring them back to the school only for class.  Most places this is a bad idea but Lascahobas is a great town for this model.  As I was saying, Bernadette is a huge figure in the community.  Everyone knows her and knows that the XOs belong to her.  The community looks out for each other and looks out for her XO’s. Upon my arrival they had 46 laptops signed out to kids at the school.

The first day we went to school and were taken up the laptop room.  Bernadette opened it up and we got to work.  I booted up my laptop and checked the school server.  Everything checked out so now it was time to check on the laptops.  Despite the school being set up with a new 12 volts electrical system 6 months prior to my arrival, they had been experiencing issues with charging the laptops. I found a good battery and used it to check through the 75 laptops that were laid out in front of me.  All but six were in perfect working condition and all but three I was able to salvage.  The next day we passed out 65 of those laptops and Thursday we had 3 laptop classes running simultaneously.  The total number of laptops was 109.  Next it was time to address the electrical issues. 

The school has 2 permanent solar panels that run from the roof to a charge controller that converts the voltage to 12 volts.  The charge then travels to a set of 4 batteries connected in parallel, and then back up into the charge controller.  From there the wires carry the charge to a power strip that was connected to the wires by wrapping the wires around the prongs and taping them with electrical tape.  Definitely not a conventional set up but after a few minutes of confused stares I traced the flow of electricity.  I looked around the room and found a voltmeter, a familiar tool that I have used in physics lab multiple times.  I took off the plastic tips and got some readings.  After a few skype calls and a good amount of discussing we decided it would be best to detach the 3rd set of wires from the charge controller and connect them directly to the batteries.  This allowed us to get the 12 volts we needed to charge the laptops.  After fussing with the touchy wires for a while, we were able to have 9 laptops charging at once on the 12 volt system. 

The next day, the job was to address the state of the other set of 2 batteries connected in parallel.  These batteries were connected to wires that ran to the roof and had two ports for connecting a rollable solar panel.  Inside the computer room, the batteries had a wire running to another power strip able to charge 9 more laptops.  Based on the voltage being produced by these two batteries, it was easy to tell that the solar panel had been in storage longer than it should have been.  I took it out and carried it to the roof where I attached it.   One of the frustrating aspects of volunteer work is that at some point you leave, and the job is no longer in your hands.  Especially with technology, maintenance is important. Whether it was ignorance or laziness, the maintenance was not getting done.  Laziness I cannot fix, but as an educator I can do my best to cure ignorance.  I took a second to enjoy the lovely view before heading back to work. In the bottom of the frame you can see the rollable solar panel providing charge to the batteries.

After a few hours of tinkering with broken laptops I went and checked the voltage across the portable system.  30 volts across the solar panel, and 13.4 volts across the battery flowing into the second power strip.  I hook up the remaining laptops, and all and all was able to charge 16 laptops on the 12 volt system.  Ruben and I smiled at our success and he ran off to get some lunch.  One of the children had brought me a laptop with a faulty keyboard, so I disassembled one of the broken XOs and was able to swap out keyboards.  He came back a few hours later and was extremely happy to have his laptop back in working condition.  The school has a pile of laptops that they claim are broken, a few seemed to have software issues but some are just good for parts.  After discussing it with Adam and Sora, we decided it would be a good idea my last day to run a workshop where I would teach a few of the best computer how to swap out parts. That was set up for Friday, but Thursday I would get the chance to do some teaching.          

I spent most of the morning Thursday tinkering and was able to fix a couple more laptops.  My lesson plan was to bring my mother’s favorite game show to the children of Lascahobas, Jeopardy.  The school has a terabyte school server the kids can connect to, called Internet-in-a-box.  The hard drive contains Wikipedia in dozens of languages, Khan academy educational videos, and other educational tools and software.  I created a list of 16 questions and arranged them in a grid with 4 different categories.  The questions were designed to be difficult enough so that the kids would have to use the laptops to look up the answers.  A sample question was “how big is Haiti in kilometers?”  The categories were, the universe, Haiti facts, America facts, and Famous people.  The kids went straight for the questions about Haiti and searched the depths of Wikipedia for the answers.  Each correct answer was met with a celebration by the team receiving the points.  I asked a question about back home that I knew would be easy for the kids to find; “What is the capital of Michigan?” They got searching and a kid in the front row raised his hand.  I walked over to examine his answer.  He got to the page on Livonia, although his answer was wrong, it was cool to see that he had a great enough access to information that if he wanted to he could read all about Livonia Michigan, or the big bang theory, or general relativity, or anything that might spark the imagination.  A few minutes later I heard one of the kids in the second row sound out the correct answer. I awarded her team the points and with that they sealed the win. The class came to an end and Bernadette came in to address the kids.  They thanked me for being their guest teacher and for the work I was doing repairing the laptops.  I said goodbye and went back to get some rest before my final day. 

On the final day I met with the teachers of the XO program.  I explained to them how the electrical system worked, and emphasized the importance of keeping everything well maintained.  One teacher especially seemed very eager to learn and seemed to understand my explanation.  I’m optimistic that when Sora and Nick arrive in mid-December, there will be very few issues.  After we worked through that and I answered their questions, I met with the star students of the XO program.  I taught one pair of kids how to disassemble the front of the laptop, and we replaced a broken screen.  The other group learned how to disassemble the bottom of the laptop and we replaced a keyboard.  The kids were intrigued, and their nimble hands made it easy for them to work on the tiny laptop.  We put everything back together and had two more working laptops.  We cleaned up and I left behind a screwdriver so that they could tinker.  I could have spent the rest of my time in Haiti at Lascahobas, fixing laptops, and teaching, but come Saturday it was time to say goodbye.     

Lascahobas provided some unique challenges that raised a lot of frustrations, but reflecting on it, I’m optimistic for the kids.  They have great leadership in Bernadette, and they have some very able and willing teachers and students.  I look forward to reading Sora and Nick’s report after their visit.  Now I am back in Port-au-Prince where I will spend the next 10 days bouncing around the city teaching and working on connectivity issues.  I arrived in Haiti 2 months ago today.  It’s been a wonderful journey and I have truly enjoyed both teaching and learning everywhere I go.  I look forward to finishing strong.

Hang on,

Sunday, November 16, 2014


So after my week in Port-au-Prince, I took a trip back to America to see friends and family.  I left from Communitere and headed to the airport early on the morning of November 1st.  After getting overcharged for my taxi ride, I piled into the airport and worked my way through security.  Haiti is an exhausting place to work, and as much as I love what I’m doing, it was nice to be able to take a break for 10 days.  After my 7 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale I boarded the plane for Detroit.  I sat next to a lovely 50 year old couple from Toledo.  The husband David and I chatted the whole flight, and occasionally his wife would jump in.  They left me with a book on neuroscience and religion.  Not particularly my area of interest, but I’m sure my mom will enjoy reading it.  I said goodbye to them and walked out into the frigid outside world to meet me girlfriend Michelle. I saw her soccer mom van and made my way over to receive a long overdue hug.  We got into the car and I drove back to my house.  It was great to be with her once again, and it was great finally be able to drive myself. We got home and I was introduced to my new dog for the first time. His name is Bo and he’s a labradoodle.

I spent the rest of my week off relaxing and seeing some familiar faces.  I went to Oakland on Tuesday and with Michelle’s help we were able to surprise Nicole Vitale ( @gingermermaidd ) for lunch. Along with some others we took a trip to Burgerz. 10/10 would recommend.  Later in the week I went up to MSU to visit some other people.  When I got there I hung out in the one and only Eden Rock apartment 203, and caught up with everyone.  Later in the night I got to see my blogs #1 fan Lucas Wilson ( @sirlucaswilson ) and we got some bubble tea.  The tea itself sucked but the experience was a 7.8/10.  The next day I headed back home to finish up my vacation.  I went on a few dates with Michelle, including a Plymouth Whalers game.  Our favorite player Sonny Milano scored the game winner in a shootout.  Sadly Tuesday the 11th my vacation came to an end.  It was nice to see everyone once again, but it was time to gather myself and finish what I set out to do.  My dad drove me to the airport and I boarded the plane heading south.  After my overnight layover in Fort Lauderdale, I flew to Haiti and it was right back to work. 

Ruben met me at the airport and we headed to Communitere so I could drop some stuff off.  I gathered what I needed and we started our journey to Hinche.  My goal for the 5 days there would be to assess the status of the school server and the laptop program.  Ruben and I bounced around a few taptaps and finally arrived at our van that would take us the rest of the way.  We loaded in and waited for the van to fill up so the driver would leave.  2 hours, 15 people, 1 mattress, 1 box spring, 1 microwave, 1 fan, and 1 propane tank later, the van was pack on the interior and exterior and ready to go.  We pulled away from the city and the scene quickly became open fields, and then mountains.  We continued our climb, winding back and forth.  Looking back toward where we just came from was a breathtaking view.  The roads shoulder dropped off into a steep slope that feel drastically before curving and leveling out into the flat valley that is Port-au-Prince.  From the mountains you get a much better idea of the size of the capital city.  The buildings run from the mountains edge up to the mouth of the ocean which was shining brightly in the afternoon light.  We continued up and down left and right, and a few hours later we arrived in Hinche.

Upon arriving we were greeted by Herodion, who would be hosting us during our time there.  We got some rest after the long day of travel and started at the school the next day.  The school, St. Andres, is just a stones throw away from where we were staying, so we walked over and began our work.  I checked the school server and initially everything looked great.  They school had electricity for starters. They turned the server on as soon as I arrived and I was able to connect right away.  This made me optimistic for the rest of the week. The hardware was functioning and that’s the first step.  After examining the server further we found an issue with the way that the server was storing the data.  The Unleash Kids team back home was able to fix everything remotely and within a few hours the software was functioning properly also.  I went out to eat with Ruben and Herodion and we celebrated a successful first day. 

The next day I returned to the school to examine what had been going on with the laptop program.  The laptops had apparently not been getting used recently and the job was to figure out why.  The hardware and software was working so we suspected the problem was bureaucracy.  I met with one of the programs teachers Darus and asked him why things had come to a halt.  His answer was that the classes stopped because the money stopped.  He and the other teacher, Herodion, had stopped getting paid and as a result the classes stopped running.  The school is sponsored by a group from California and they pay a lot of money.  A portion of that is supposed to be allocated to paying for the laptop program, including hardware, software, and teachers.  The school and its’ director managed to maintain the first 2, but failed to pay their teachers.  Darus has been working with the laptop program since  October 2013. Based on the journal entries from the XO laptops, I can tell that most weeks we was running the class 3 or 4 times a week. In January 2014, Herdion joined the program and the two split the work load.  It’s unclear exactly how much either has been paid, but it’s very clear that there has been a mismanagement of funds that has led to two hardworking teachers being underpaid and under-appreciated.  There’s a lot of speculation as to just where these funds are going, but they are definitely not going where they were intended.  I was insured by the schools director that classes would be running again by next week, but I find that unlikely.  I may come back in December to visit with my brother. It will be interesting to see if any progress has been made. 

After a bleak Friday, we decided that Saturday I would visit a local tourist trap, Bassin Zim.  After an 8 mile motorcycle ride up and down a dirt road we arrived at the gate, Herodion explained that I was in Hinche for a short period of time and wanted to see the sights.  He let us in and we rolled up to the water’s edge.  Bassin Zim is a beautiful waterfall that flows down the rocks and into a reservoir that leads into another river.  

The view was amazing and when I finally took my eyes off the flowing water I realized that I was surrounded by a group of 5th grade Haitians eager to give me a tour.  They are used to having Americans, and they know enough English to communicate all the important ideas.  We walked up a path to the right of the mountains and we headed up to the caves.  The first cave we saw the called the big cave.  Water flowed from a natural spring in the back up the cave and trickled out down a small river at the caves enterance.  Along the side wall a series of bee’s nests sat staring back at me.  I walked up the river and the kids warned me about the bees to my left and about the bats overhead.  The cave was magnificent. The walls were covered in writing from tourists who had visited.  There were also cave paintings that the Haitian guides claimed were native Taino drawings.  I don’t know if I buy it but if true the drawings have an eerie connotation.  Columbus landed in Haiti in 1492 and the Spaniards enslaved the native Taino people. By the turn of the 18th century the natives had been all but wiped out.   We pressed on into the cave and I looked up to see an opening that had been repelled into by some more adventurous Blan than myself.  We exited the cave and went to the river’s edge to see where the falls began.  The water rushed by below and I took it all in. Below is a panoramic shot.

We headed back down the steps and on our way down we visited the little cave.  The tour guides explained that it was a cave that was used to house voodoo rituals.  Again I was skeptical that this may just be what they tell tourists to scare/excite them, but I played along and one of my guides, Jonas, took some pictures. 

After leaving the voodoo cave we went back down to the water’s edge.  The kids asked me if I could swim and then asked me to race them.  I laughed and accepted their challenge.  We got into out swim attire and the kids whined about the cold water.  It was nothing compared to what I’ve swam in back home.  John was the only one brave enough to get in with me and we raced to the other side of the reservoir.  It wasn’t really that close but the kids were cheering me on the whole way.  We got out on the other side and climbed up the rock face and relaxed for a while. 

After swimming for a while longer, we decided to call it a day and get back before the day came to an end.  Bassin Zim was a good way to end what was otherwise a pretty frustrating week.  Fixing technical difficulties can be challenging enough, but bureaucratic difficulties are a totally different beast.  I wish everyone involved at St. Andres all the best, but I am not optimistic.  If progress is to be made there will need to be a reallocation of responsibilities.   

I’ll be spending the next 5 days in Lascahobas which is about an hour south of Hinche.  There I will be again be assessing server issues, but since I am arriving on a Monday, I will be able to resolve issues early in the week and teach later in the week.  I look forward to getting back to my forte, teaching. 

Hang on,


Saturday, November 1, 2014


Following my work in Grand Goave, I headed back to Port-au-Prince.  More specifically I spent the week at a school in Cazeau.  The facility is part school, part orphanage, and part church.  I visited there earlier in my trip and taught the scientific method with Dyna.  This time around I focused my efforts on tech support.

Cazeau is one of the schools funded by Ken Beaver the founder of Hope for Haiti's Children.  Everyone in the Unleash Kids organization agrees that Cazeau is a promising place on the brink of success.  The school has one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with in Dyna. They have plenty of XO's for their after school program, and they also have something called Internet-in-a-box. This is a terabyte hard drive that connects to the school server.  On the hard drive is all of Wikipedia in 5 or 6 different languages, Khan Academy's educational videos, and Project Gutenberg's collection of free eBooks.  So just by connecting to the school server, the students can access any and all of this information.  Doing so makes it much easier to ensure that the kids are using the internet for good, and not evil.  A lot of what I have been doing is structured guided leaning, which is undoubtedly beneficial, but the Internet-in-a-box allows for self-guided, exploratory learning.  It allows the students to discover their own truths rather than just eating the fruit of knowledge that I spoon feed them.  My challenge for the week was getting everything in order.

Sunday and Monday were spent as diagnostic days.  I had my phone running a Skype call with our tech experts and they walked me through the steps.  A problem would arise, I would report it, the group would discuss it, come to a consensus, and I would take the necessary steps to resolve the issue.  By Tuesday we had everything set up and ready to go. I tested it out by looking up some articles on things back home. I planned to return Wednesday, explain the set up to Dyna, and teach a class with her on Thursday.

Wednesday rolled around and I headed out to the school to start my day.  I walked down to the nearest intersection, hopped on a taptap and got off at my stop.  After saying hello to the excited schoolkids, I went over to the orphanage side to get everything ready.  I did not have a translator and was greeted by a man they call Zekie. He and his wife Sonya live in the house I worked in all week, and they oversee the orphanage. I said hello to Zekie and he spit out a long Creole monologue.  I wasn't able to get everything but the gist of it was that they did not have electricity.  I later found out that the reason they didn't have electricity was because someone had stolen the city electrical wire running from the school to the orphanage.  This was a disappointing setback to say the least, but I was reassured that the problem would be fixed the next day.  I went over a few things with Dyna and headed back to Haiti Communitere while the wires were replaced.

Thursday I came back to a school with working electricity.  The crew working was extremely efficient and I was able to get everything set up right away.  The next step was to just wait for Dyna to come so we could get a class going.  The hours came and passed and I saw no sign of her.  She was not teaching her usual day class and I began to grow concerned.  I did not have my Haitian phone with me that day so I had no way to reach her, I hung around the school and met a group of kids doing the same.  I spoke all the Creole I could in hopes of figuring out the situation with Dyna and her class.  The kids informed me that she would not be coming and that there would not be class that day.  I made the most out of my time with them and played some soccer before leaving for the day.  When I got back to my phone I saw that Dyna had taken a sick day, but she would be back Friday.  Things never seem to quite go as you plan, especially in Haiti, so I've learned to be flexible.

Friday I got to the school an hour early and had some time to kill before Dyna arrived.  I rounded up a group of kids and we played a game of pickup basketball.  My 6 foot frame was a bit of an advantage playing with a group of 8-12 year olds, but I did my best to make sure everyone got their moment of glory.  Dyna showed up around 1 and I switched gears back to teacher mode.  I showed her the basics of how everything worked and ensured her that if she needed any support she's be able to contact myself or someone else in the organization.  She's an extremely gifted teacher and right away she saw the benefit in being able to access the near infinite amount of information.  I left very optimistic that by my next visit she will have made amazing progress.

After Cazeau, I headed to Silar's orphanage.  I went back to the main intersection by Communitere, and boarded into a moving van along with about 35 other people.  I tend to stand out in Haiti, and as a result I was the topic of discussion during our 15 minute ride.  No one spoke to me directly, but there was an ongoing argument on whether I could speak Creole, and if I could understand what they were saying.  One woman had a fairly strong opinion that people coming to Haiti really should just learn the language, according to her it isn't that difficult to learn.  Eventually I blew my cover by letting out a smirk.  The secret was out and everyone seemed to rejoice the fact that I knew what they were saying.  I informed them that I am still learning Creole, but I can understand a little bit. One of the passengers, Carlos, befriended me and volunteered to help me get to my destination.

Carlos wasn't much help but I appreciated the gesture.  I arrived at Silar's and said goodbye to him and wished him luck.  At Silar's I preformed more diagnostics in an effort to resolve the issues with his internet.  Silar runs an orphanage of around 70 kids.  They do not receive nearly the funding that a lot of places do, but Silar knows how to make every penny count.  He's an amazing guy and he does amazing things.  With Adam's help we were able to determine that the internet supplier had, for some reason, not reset his data for the month of October.  We are currently waiting to see if the new month brought new internet.  Regardless we will be contacting them soon to recover our lost month.

It was a busy week and I did a lot more tech work than I ever thought I would be doing.  The problems are never finished and you definitely just have to roll with it.  I enjoy every day off that I can get, it gives me a change to refuel and recharge.  I don't know what's in store for me next, but I'm confident that I'll be able to handle it.

Hang on,


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grand Goave: Week Three

Going into the week I was under the impression that I would again be without a translator.  Sunday night I received the wonderful news from Sora and Adam that this would not be the case.  Jeanide, who I worked with in Port-au-Prince, had managed to find time in her busy schedule to make the trip east, to help me throughout the week.  She left Monday during the morning and arrived when I returned from school. I thanked her greatly for coming on such a short notice and began to lay out my lesson plans for the week. 

Tuesday I decided that I would introduce the scientific method to both classes by using the same sound experiment I used at Cazeau.  The experiment is very simple.  Line up 4 glass bottles each with a different amount of water in it, then ask the students which bottle will have the lowest pitch.  Asking a question is the first step of the scientific method.  Next is to do research.  For this I had the students pull up the Wikipedia page on sound, and they did a little bit of reading.  The class came to the consensus that sound is a wave, and the different amounts of water would cause different pitches.  Step 3 the kids formed a hypothesis.  All guessed that either 1 or 4 would have the lowest pitch.  Step 4 we performed the experiment and found that bottle 4 had the lowest pitch. The class then recorded their results for step 5, and for step 6 we drew a conclusion.  As the amount of water increases, the pitch decreases.  Not a ground breaking experiment to say the least, but definitely simple enough to convey the proper procedure when doing scientific investigation. 

Wednesday I had planned to teach a music class with Mistro.  He is the piano player in the church’s band and he could definitely teach the kids one or two things about how to read and play music.  He has been terribly unreliable during my time here, but I figured if I gave him a chance to teach something he truly loved, that maybe he would take some initiative and show up.  Once again he let me down.  It was 10 O’clock and time to start class.  He was nowhere to be found.  Instead of proceeding I decided to take the lesson in a different direction.  Watching the kids type up their reports the day before, I noticed that very few knew the proper typing technique.   I drew a blown up picture of a keyboard on my whiteboard and demonstrated the proper hand positions.  The XO’s have typing software, and I set aside the first hour of class toward practicing their newly acquired skill.    For the older kids, I let them do with the last hour of class whatever they pleased.  To my surprise many continued playing the typing game.  A few students switched over to chat, but a few others explored the depths of Wikipedia.  Seeing the kids independently choose to practice typing, or read articles is a wonderfully reassuring feeling.  It shows that they really are thirsty to learn, and it’s an honor to provide them with tools that can quench that thirst.

I wanted to go out of Grand Goave with a bang, I wanted to give the kids something that they would remember.  I definitely did so at Delmas 28 when I did my rocket lesson, and I wanted to give Mission of Hopes students a similar experience. Thursday I explained the basics of rocketry.  I lead with gravity, talked about the vinegar and baking soda fuel, and then went into aerodynamics.  I had the kids draw up some designs on paint so they could get a better idea of what we would be building Friday.  Many struggled to work to overcome the touchy paint software, but I went around and helped get everything in working order.  In the end we had some wonderful designs. A couple of students finished very quickly and agreed to design a new one even better.  I let them be and came back 10 minutes later to discover that they had copied a picture of the Columbia Spaceshuttle from their offline digital library, and pasted it into paint.  I appreciated the resourcefulness and congratulated them on their designs.  They even added their own artistic touches.  

Friday came and it was time to turn these students into rocket stars.  All the supplies were in order and I distributed them to the two teams.  The kids opened their XO’s and used their schematics as reference.  The older kids worked especially well together and were efficient with all their resources, the younger kids not so much.  The teams wrapped up and added their finishing touches.  We went into the graveled area next to where we held class and I prepared the fuel.  The teams formed a circle around and eagerly awaited their flights.  We shot off one rocket after the other and the kids cheered with delight at their successes. 

The day came to an end and I said my goodbyes to the class.  Friday was my last day teaching in Grand Goave and I truly will miss the students of MOH. These 3 weeks have meant a lot to me and not just because of the lessons I have taught.  Grand Goave gave me the chance to really get to know a group of kids, some on a very deep level.  Last week I introduced you to my friend Johnsley.  He is a 14 year old boy who aspires to be both a pastor and a doctor.  He has decent English skills, and he and I talked a lot and became very close.  He stopped by the beach house on Saturday so that we could say our final goodbyes. Tuesday I gave him an English bible and an English to Creole dictionary.  He left me with a letter that he wrote thanking me for being his teacher and his friend.  It’s something that I will cherish forever. Below is Johnsley with his rocket design. I wish him and all of his classmates the best of luck.

Tomorrow I head back to Port-au-Prince to do some teaching and server repair at Cazeau.  It has been an absolute pleasure to teach here in Grand Goave, but there is still plenty more work to be done at plenty of other schools.  I look forward to teaching and making more friends along the way.

Hang on,