International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’ve been told to post a photo of a woman who inspires me.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I met Miguelina in Ascension, a small village for Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. The other women warned me about her. “Li gen ambisyon,” they told me. At first I thought I was translating wrong – being ambitious was a bad thing here?

As I spent more time there, I realized what they meant. Their status as illegal immigrants and the enormous discrimination they faced as Haitians meant they didn’t feel safe about going into town and couldn’t find jobs or send their kids to school. With so few opportunities to build a better life for themselves, it made sense to just accept the situation, instead of being “ambitious” and trying to change it.

I avoided Miguelina for a long time. When in Rome, after all. But one day I somehow ended up having to stop by her house, and I stumbled upon her teaching her kids a rhyme. I discovered she could recite dozens of poems by heart. I was amazed. I’d spent weeks trying to get our students interested in having fun with words through poetry, and here Miguelina had been, all along.

We often talk about how nobly people in the developing world endure the hardships of their daily lives and how much we have to learn from that considering how privileged we are. Miguelina was no stoic – the other women were right when they complained that she complained a lot. But as I got to know her better, I realized she wasn’t so much lamenting the conditions as her inability to change them. I’ll never forget one thing she told me: “The greatest tragedy in my life is boredom.” Her family lacked quality housing and sanitation, and her children often went hungry and got sick, but according to her those things weren’t as bad as having no source of entertainment, employment, or education.

That’s what drives me to keep doing something, anything, to improve access to information and technology – just to give people like Miguelina and her kids something to do with their time, their minds, their hearts, and their ambition.

Asking the Right Questions

“So, how are classes going?”
“Tout bagay anfom, wi, Sora.”

“Everything’s fine, Sora.” That’s always the response when I’m talking to the teachers on the phone from the US. The further away I am, the less I know about what’s really going on. In some ways, it makes sense – I want the teachers to feel in charge of programs after I leave, instead of calling me up at the first sign of trouble. But sometimes, more information is useful.

Below are some of the questions I ask Jameson and Jean Albert to report on before we talk every two weeks. What questions am I not asking? How can I change the wording to get a better response?

Attendance:
For each class, write how many kids came and what time class started.

Sometimes a pattern of lateness is an indication of something else – the kids aren’t motivated, or there were problems charging the computers, or classtime is conflicting with other events in the community.

Lesson
What activities did you use?
What did the kids create with the activities?
What did the kids learn with the activities?

When I ask what they’re doing in the classes, the teachers respond with what activities they’re using, but it’s not enough for me to know the kids are using the Paint activity – I want to know what they’re painting. I’m hoping these new questions will emphasize to the teachers that when they plan a lesson, they should be planning what the kids are meant to learn or create with it.

Behavior
Did all the kids work well? Which of your actions encouraged this?
If there was one who didn’t work well, why do you think he didn’t want to do the activity?
Did all of the kids listen well to the teacher?
If no, what will you change to encourage them to listen?

I spent a lot of time debating over the wording here. On one hand I don’t want the teachers to feel like I’m blaming them for the kids’ bad behavior; on the other, the teachers need to understand that their own actions affect the kids’ attitudes. So, I use the word “encourage” to remind them of their role, and when kids do act up, I ask the teachers about the kid’s motivation.

Equipment
Did all the computers work well?
If there was a problem, please give some more details:
Is the solar charging system working well?
Does the box have a red light?

You’d be surprised how often technical problems don’t get reported until the very end of the call. “Oh, Sora, by the way, computer 15 isn’t working.” I want the teachers to know it’s okay to let me know when something’s broken instead of feeling guilty about it.

Write any other information you would like Sora to know here:

This normally turns into a place for the teachers to vent. They want to know that I care about their concerns and I’m doing what I can to support them. Sometimes (often) I can’t give them everything they’d like, but at least they know I’m listening.

Trip in Review: Part 3

After all the hassle of getting there and getting set up, what happens? Here’s some samples of the kids’ work. The best is yet to come! This trip, we introduced a lot of new tools and it’s going to be fun to watch the kids discover them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trip in Review: Part 2

A large amount of your time in Haiti ends up getting spent going from place to place, and I covered those street photos in the last post. Here are some glimpses of what we do when we finally reach our destination.

Check out the next and last post for final product.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trip in Review

Looking back through photos is a good way to get rid of my left-my-heart-in-Haiti blues…and prepare for my presentation with the Kiwanis club of Mercury 64…and give the Kiwanis club of Oyster Point and other supporters a peek at pictures they didn’t get the chance to see in the update.

So, here you are. First up some street photos. It’s difficult to convey how crowded, stimulating, dirty, and beautiful the capital city is, but here are some shots.

Look to the next post for some shots of kids, men, and women at work. There’s also a Part 3 for those who want to skip right to the final product.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What happens when kids get their hands on computers for the first time

Just wanted to share these shots of the first class we held in Hinche with the XO laptops. I was a little worried at first about whether or not the lesson plan would work – I’d decided to allow the kids to spend basically the entire two hour class taking photos, and there’s definitely a risk there of people getting bored. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, over the course of the class, I saw them grow more comfortable with the computers, coming up with more creative ideas the more time they spent. Check out the learning experience:

At first, the kids stood around uncertainly, snapping shots of their own faces and friends.

At first, the kids stood around uncertainly, snapping shots of their own faces and friends.

Then, they began tentatively experimenting with different ways to hold the laptops.

Then, they began tentatively experimenting with different ways to hold the laptops.

The laptop cameras only face one way, so if you want to take a photo of something in front of you you have to get creative.

The laptop cameras only face one way, so if you want to take a photo of something in front of you you have to get creative.

People got more and more innovative with the different angles they could take photos from.

People got more and more innovative with the different angles they could take photos from.

Then, someone got the idea to strike a pose

Then, someone got the idea to strike a pose

Some of the kids went upstairs and took turns posing  with a pair of glasses.

Some of the kids went upstairs and took turns posing with a pair of glasses.

One of the teachers invited the kids to stand on the rock for photos. He was really proud of coming up with the idea.

One of the teachers invited the kids to stand on the rock for photos. He was really proud of coming up with the idea.

Later, many of the girls in the rock photos called themselves princesses and mermaids when they went to name the photos on the computers.

Later, many of the girls in the rock photos called themselves princesses and mermaids when they went to name the photos on the computers.

Finally our young photographers were so confident, they even borrowed a motorcycle as a prop.

Finally our young photographers were so confident, they even borrowed a motorcycle as a prop.

motoplay

Okay, done with the photo op for now. On to the next wild ride!

Okay, done with the photo op for now. On to the next wild ride!

St. Andre’s, Hinche

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got to go to a new place on this trip: Hinche (pronounced Aynsh), a large market town that is capital of the Centre department. I spent a week there with Haley, Gregory, and Marie, TESOL graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. It was great to be a part of their first time in Haiti, hearing their perspectives and seeing their passion.

Our host was Pere Noe, who just began working with the Episcopal church there, St. Andre’s. St. Andre’s is also the name of the school he runs, which has more than 1000 students enrolled in grades pre-K through the last year of high school.