Today has been a big puddle of stress. The kids need more attention than Bill and I can offer them. On top of this, an important OLPC meeting has come up tomorrow so we’re leaving Williamson early.

In evaluating our projects so far, Bill and I have come up with the Seven Elements of Success in an OLPC/Waveplace project. Each element is absolutely essential. Without any one of them, an initiative cannot be successful.

We thought we would make this list so that we can better prepare ourselves in the future for more successful pilots. Due to the particular situation of the children at Mercy and Sharing, we’re really happy that we brought the computers there. However, we really wish that we had more organization/coordination with the Mercy and Sharing staff, and more time to be with the kids in general.

Anyway, here are our seven elements of success in our six week program:

1. Adopting the teaching style of Waveplace. This means, fostering a learning environment that allows kids to have FUN while working. Using encouragement rather than discouragement/physical or mental abuse. Being comfortable with not knowing answers and working through them. Allowing students to help one another and work together.

2. Getting through one lesson per day during the six week period. During the six weeks, there should be ten lessons (two weeks) of basic Etoys training, ten days (two weeks) of storytelling and ten lessons (two weeks) of mathematics, totaling six weeks. By the end of the six weeks, all three units should be completed.

3. Communicating with Waveplace at least once per week. Usually through email, but mentors need to keep in touch with Waveplace about problems, questions, suggestions, things that are going well, etc.

4. Regular attendance/punctuality of both mentors and students. This is an absolute must. Both Petite Riviere and Darbonne have strict attendance policies on both mentors and students. Since lessons are on a tight schedule, missing a day of class is detrimental to learning because each lesson builds on the next. As mentors are paid staff, their constant presence is also a requirement. Not to mention that it helps students to have all five mentors present that day to facilitate their learning.

5. Keeping computers in constant use by students. No computers left in offices, closets, or the like. Computers should be taken home by students (within reason) and used on a regular basis. No exceptions to the “regular basis” part.

6. Establishing a teaching/class structure that can be utilized in the long-term. This means: organizing a location, class time and other logistical details that can work over the six week period (and perhaps after it, too). Also structuring pedagogical strategy in class to make learning most efficient and easy. For example, in Petite Rivere and Darbonne, how class will be taught each day is decided in a fifteen minute pre-class meeting that all mentors must attend. This allows mentors to work together during the class period and teach in an organized fashion. They also meet for 30 minutes after class to reflect on how things are going, discuss issues of importance and make suggestions for the future.

7. Presence of a person on site that is dedicated to the program. This one is a cousin of #4, the attendance policy. However, this element specifically suggests that there needs to be someone on site who is passionate, who wants the program to work and who will essentially fight for it. Luckily, most of our mentors fill this role. But if a program were to have fewer mentors or even mentors that were not as enthusiastic, a program still needs to have one person who will push forward and carry the class.

These are the elements of success. Debate them if you will, but in my experience, you can’t have a successful pilot (or really any successful program at all) without all of them.

One of our students (I don’t know his name yet) is missing a part of both of his wrists so his hand are curved inward. His thumb curls below his hand. Besides this, he is a perfectly normal kid who has completely overcome his disability. He’s good natured and I don’t think the kids around him even realize that he had difficulty sometimes using his hands.

We watch him struggle for hours with the trackpad on his XO. I’m not even sure what to say to him because I’m honestly just holding my breath for the trackpad to keep WORKING. We’ve had quite a few trackpad issues in the past, and Etoys is a very detail-oriented software so we can’t afford those. Not to mention that if he did start having trackpad problems, he wouldn’t be able to independently deliver the “four finger salute”, or the trackpad recalibration by pressing all four corners of the keypad at the same time.

So needless to say, there are bigger fish that we are looking at while he struggles. And then Bill looks at me and he goes, “wait. Why don’t we just give the kid a mouse?”

I remembered that I kept an “emergency” mini-mouse in my computer bag and there was no better time to use it than now. I whipped it out, plugged that puppy in and within five minutes the kid was on fire, making designs and stars, filling them in with his paint bucket, quick with his hands and big with his smile. Oh, did my heart melt. I literally almost cried seeing this kid suddenly come out of nowhere and fly through Etoys with a mouse in his hand.

In my four weeks here in Haiti, I haven’t had a desperate need to use much Creole. In Darbonne, it came in handy because there were quite a few mentors that didn’t speak English. But in Petite Riviere, almost all of the mentors spoke English so I hardly used it at all. Here in Williamson, our translator is not a professional translator, but a teacher (and not even an English teacher; he teaches something else). He is a great guy but sometimes I just need to get the message across directly to the kids without a middle man. Sometimes I surprise myself with how good my Creole is getting. I can’t communicate horribly complex ideas, but I can give directions (and especially directions related to the use of a computer) to kids and speak to them on their level.

This has been an amazing blessing because the kids have grown close to me very quickly. They are already asking me to come back soon, and I am already sad to go. They tell me that I speak lots of Creole, not just a little. It’s not true, but it makes me happy to know that the kids feel they can communicate freely with me. Each one is filled with so much love, so much need. It’s heartbreaking, really. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

Class today went well. The kids are SO smart. The problem is that they’re used to a little bit of disorganization, a little bit of chaos. So we try to sit them down and teach them Etoys and they’re playing with the Record program or Tam Tam or the Maze or anything else. We try to teach them how to pull a rectangle out of the supply box when they’re already creating houses and airplanes and fields of flowers in Etoys’ paint program. We want to encourage them so we’ve been skipping around a little bit. We successfully completed three lessons in one day because the kids are extremely smart, extremely fast and extremely difficult to hold down.

Johnny, our translator, has shown an interest in the computers and we are thinking of taking him and a couple of students aside to teach them how to take apart a computer and repair it if necessary. Some of the students from last year and some of the other teachers are also interested in the computers. We are trying to encourage them to help other students too but, as we discovered in Petite Riviere, it isn’t as easy as you think to get people to start helping one another due to the idea that has been burned into their brains that helping each other is like cheating. We’re working on it. Luckily, we’re working with an enormous family that is used to helping one another in other respects outside of the classroom. Wherever you go, the bigger kids take care of the little kids. We’re trying to communicate as much as we can that it’s okay to do that that in our class, too.

When class was over, we went to load the computers into the truck so that we could charge them at Kaliko again because of the diesel problem that is keeping us from using the generator much. The kids fought to hold onto them. “My computer has a full charge!” Some kids exclaimed. “Please don’t take it back with you!” Even the older kids were just heartbroken to have their computers taken away for them for the night. “How will they practice??” The cried. We reassured them that the computers would be back in the morning, and when we leave on Wednesday the kids will be able to use the computers 24/7 because hopefully the diesel problem will not be so much of a problem anymore at that point. They nodded, but we literally had to pry some of those computers out of the kids’ hands.

All in all, a successful day. We’re excited that Johnny is interested in lending a hand in the long-term. I’m not sure we’re going to get these kids to have daily lessons while we’re gone, but we’re lucky that these kids are extremely smart and extremely self-sufficient, so I know they’ll be using the computers even without class. Now if we can just teach them to do some animations so they really have the tools they need to build upon Etoys!

John put up a great post on the Haiti Partners website today about our Darbonne program. Don’t miss it.

(from Saturday)

Eddy tugs my hand and looks at me with that goofy smile of his. I still don’t know what his eyes look like because he is wearing a pair of enormous black sunglasses. He has on a yellow shirt and red shorts with a Hawaiian print. Those shorts, they give his personality away in a second. Charmingly awkward, friendly, low-maintenance. He smiles at me and he never speaks, but that smile, it speaks volumes.

I hold out my fist. He bumps it with his own. He looks at me with those enormous sunglasses. Then he slowly walks away, an aggravated limp causing him to sway from side to side with each step.

Eddy is one of the quieter kids at the Mercy and Sharing orphanage in Williamson. Most of the children, when they hear me utter a word in Creole, talk my ears off. I think they are a little shocked to see a blan speaking Creole to them. But they have also learned an impressive amount of English due to the many volunteers that come by, as well as the head of the orphanage, Susie, who is also American. There are kids of all ages- young babies being held by older children, preteen girls who are growing into new bodies, teenage boys that are dripping with testosterone. Some children have mental and physical handicaps- they have malformed arms and craniums, for example. With so many children, the orphanage is loud and at times chaotic. But each child is more loving than the next.

I’ve never set foot inside an orphanage before, though Bill knows this place well. He and I arrived this afternoon after spending last night in Port-au-Prince fixing bad clocks on a number of OLPC laptops that wouldn’t start. We successfully fixed 43 laptops before John’s electricity went out. We have 34 to go before they are all fixed. Needless to say, we were a little bit tired when we came onto the scene. There are no mentors here so we’re teaching 20 of the children ourselves. They gather desks in a circle in what is the orphanage’s classroom, though it is loud from other children playing in the vicinity. We don’t have the computers charged and there is a shortage of diesel in the area so fueling the generator is not easy. For this reason, we decide to have a quick introduction to Sugar, and leave it at that. Johnny, a man that works at the orphanage and speaks English quite well, helps me translate my instruction but he often leaves to help the students. I find it much easier to go to a group of five students, explain what they should do in Creole, then move to the next group of five students, rather than trying to get everyone to listen at once. It’s too noisy for them to hear.

Tomorrow we’re going to have our first official Etoys class. It’ll start at 11am and go for 1.5 hours. Then we’ll break for lunch and meet back in the afternoon for another class. The plan is to charge the computers at our hotel, Kaliko (a beautiful resort that makes me think I’m in Disney World), then bring them to school in the morning for a full three hours of use. Jeff, the man who built the orphanage with his construction company and who still visits regularly, is going to arrange for us to have class in a quieter location, too. Cross your fingers that it works out.

I have mixed feelings about bringing these computers to an organization that doesn’t have mentors. I feel like we’re just dropping a bunch of laptops for these kids and relying on true constructionism for them to learn absolutely anything. But at the same time, the kids live at what is essentially school, so the computers are available to them at all times. Students still use their XOs from last year, albeit informally. In terms of Waveplace’s six week program trying to get Williamson’s pilot up to the same level as the other ones, there is about a 0% chance of success. We don’t have mentors, so naturally, it’s impossible. But if you just spend five minutes looking at these children, you will realize that these computers may literally be the only chance they have. Children at an orphanage are different from children that go to school and live in town and have families and siblings and influences. They don’t have any of that. It makes these computers tens- no, hundreds- of times more valuable. And for this reason I am happy that the computers are here. They give kids opportunity. They show them that there is much more in the world beyond what they know. They give these kids a fighting chance.

Eleven of these children are recent orphans- handed over by the government after they lost their families in the earthquake. Others have been living without families for years. Some of the boys sit me down and ask me about my brothers. How old are they? What are their names? Then they ask me about my parents. They quiz me on words in Creole- how do you say mother-in-law? Brother? Aunt? I play with them and they enjoy teaching me Creole. There are always children around me- children in my arms, children grabbing onto my shirt, children sitting as closely to me as possible. At one point I am literally covered with children as I sit down on a bench. I look over at Bill and he is watching. “I feel like a mother right now,” I say to him.

“That’s the thing,” he replies. “To them, you are a mother.”

Later that afternoon there is a little boy crying in a big room. Kids are playing around him and he is just sitting there sobbing. There is no one to pick him up and hold him and I don’t know what to do so I just go over there and take him into my arms. I feel him cling to me with his little stubby fingers and legs. I brush his tears from his face. “Why are you crying?” I whisper to him in Creole. “Don’t cry. You’re ok.” The second I scoop him into my arms he is absolutely silent. He stops crying.

It seems the crying has been transferred to me because now I am blinking back tears. If I weren’t here to gather this little child into my arms, who would be here? How do these children thrive, without parents, without a family of their own? I look in the corner and see our box of laptops. Up until this moment I have been very cynical about the organization of our pilot in Williamson. Now I am sure that the organization of this pilot has much to be desired.

But the fact of the matter is, regardless of the lack of mentors and limited language ability in teaching these students, these computers are the most precious gift. And somewhere, deep inside, I think the students realize that. I think they know that they have been given a key, and it might take them a bit longer than students in other pilots to figure out how that key is used or what it does, but when they do, the door they open will be full of greater pleasures than they could have ever once imagined for themselves.

And that’s exactly what OLPC and Waveplace are all about.

(from Thursday)

We call ourselves the Green and White Berets: Bill, Beth and Benaja. Bill calls us the “B Team”– a compilation of our three B names and also what you get when you can’t afford the A team. Together, we make things work. We are the OLPC/Haiti special forces. And we’re here to get the job done.

Our mentors in Petite Riviere des Nippes feel the same way. Our last day here went very similarly to the way our last day in Darbonne went. We did little to disrupt class and let the mentors hold their before and after meetings on their own. It was so cute- during one particular moment, one of the students got up and started to help the other students who didn’t understand a particular part of the lesson. I turned to Bill. “Looks like we have another mentor!” I said to him. He smiled.

When class was over, we thanked the mentors for an incredible experience, both in and outside of the classroom. They’ve been working hard to keep us busy doing lots of “touristy” things around Petite Riviere- eating sugar cane and coconuts, visiting beaches, going for boat rides. After we spoke, the mentors had a few words. Just like the Darbonne mentors, they promised us that they were going to make sure this pilot succeeds. They would use every inch of their power to make sure that they hold true to that promise.

And so, the Green and White Berets continue on into the sunset- towards a new adventure, a new challenge. And no one can deny that this hasn’t also been both adventurous and challenging!

Some details:

Since we worry about the principal trying to micromanage (though he hasn’t been doing it too much lately), we asked Tim about an official policy on who the computers belong to. He decided that the computers officially belong to Waveplace and are on loan to the students and mentors of the program, indefinitely. This will allow us to take the computers out of the school if they are not used or if something goes drastically wrong. However, we certainly hope that nothing happens that makes us have to pull them out! Apparently the principal yelled at one of the students in class yesterday who came wearing regular clothes. He told the student that if he didn’t come to class today in his uniform, he would be thrown out. We are trying to pick our battles here, so we haven’t said anything. It might be something to take up with Tim/Jack later, because our computer classes are not during school time and therefore there is no reason why a student can’t wear regular clothes (just like we asked them to do on Saturday when we had class).

On a brighter note, Evens and Emmanuel volunteered to be the people that would work with the principal to develop our lending library that we’re going to have at the school with the leftover laptops. They’ll start talking with him tomorrow about how they can do it. It should be a simple process so they hope to have the library going by the end of the week. I warned them that the principal likes to complicate things and not to be set back by his attempts. They smiled. I think they know who they’re dealing with and I have faith in them. Walking out of the school building, some students from last year saw Bill and started asking him why they weren’t in the program and if they could be a part of it again. He told them about the lending library and it looked like that was able to relax them a bit, knowing they’d still be able to use these computers.

I worry about not having funding to continue this program after six weeks. Two pilots down and two to go, the mentors are doing everything in their power to keep the program moving. And I just want, more than anything, to be able to tell them and the students that it will go on forever.

After class, the mentors took us for another boat ride to a different beach. Back home I’m a crew coach, so I’m pretty familiar with driving a motor boat, so Emmanuel let me drive. I’d never driven a small motorboat with ten people in it before so it was pretty unique. But fun, definitely fun.

Unlike the last beach we went to, which had rough sand and a little picnic area, this beach had very smooth, black sand and a little house that looked like Swiss architecture. We walked inside the little house then went swimming in the water, splashing around, racing each other from one point to another, seeing who could hold their breath underwater the longest. As the sun began to set, we headed back to the hotel. I looked at my friends around me and suddenly felt a little bit sad to leave them. Just another reason to come back.

It’s about 8pm right now and the mentors still have another boat ride in the works. I asked them if it was dangerous to be driving a boat in the pitch black night with no light. “Oh no,” they said. “It’s not dangerous at all.”

Another adventure, another challenge.

See you tomorrow in Port-au-Prince, where Bill and I get to face the ultimate challenge: 100 broken laptops about 24 hours. Bring on the beer.

(from Wednesday)

There’s a breeze settling in on the ocean. I scan my eyes over the horizon- nothing, nothing, nothing but water and sky, nothing…then, a tiny sailboat in the far-off distance.

Imagine the horizon is the peace that I want to maintain today in this blog post, and that the sailboat is the very small detail that I am going to write about- just enough to not disturb what is around it. Today has been quite the day and I am not about to even remotely disrupt the perfection that we seemed to have reached.

The mentors showed up to class on time today (six of them showed up 15 minutes early, INCLUDING the ones who are notoriously late). A number of them were particularly well-dressed. They broke into groups and planned how they would teach class. They returned to their respective classrooms and went through their lessons flawlessly. The principal stopped by, bringing freshly charged computers to students. He didn’t try to teach, but he did offer advice from time to time. His eyes twinkled. At one point they asked him for some chalk and he got them some. Class ended at 2pm. We met for our mentor meeting afterward. And all I could do was smile.

At the mentor meeting, we outlined the two weeks of storybooks. We briefly discussed the math projects too, which would come up in the following two weeks. The mentors were very pleased with class. They said the students are picking up things quickly. They are encouraging them to help one another. When there is a technical problem on the computer, they do their best to resolve it without asking for the help of the “blan” (white people- so, Bill and me).

Shhh. I don’t to make a sound. But we couldn’t ask for more.

We are working on seeing if we can get our Petite Riviere mentors paid sooner than just after the six week period. It might be good to look into that for the Darbonne mentors as well.

Got an email from Robert last night. Things at Matènwa are not going so smoothly. I sent him the lesson outlines in Krèyol in case he didn’t have them yet, as well as the outline for the storybooks lesson. I encouraged him to keep having class once per day and to just try to get through the lessons until we get there. We’ll only have a few days in Matènwa but it will be something.

I look at how far we have come with our Darbonne mentors. I look at how much farther we have come with our Petite Riviere mentors. And it gives me faith that Bill and Benaja and I can make it happen for Matènwa, too.

Sometimes you just need to trust your sails and lean into the wind.

(from Tuesday)

It’s 12:15- time for our mentor meeting- and there are only six out of ten mentors here.

I pace back and forth. Today is the most important day of our visit so far. In trying to make peace with the principal at our school in Petite Riviere des Nippes, we had invited him to come and watch class today, then sit with us for a few minutes as we go through our mentor breakdown meeting. We would welcome his questions and comments, and simultaneously try to show him that he can trust us to make this program run smoothly.

The mentors had been having trouble getting the principal to trust them. He used to come to class and take attendance- of the mentors! When they would ask for things from him, he would say no. Yet in the past few days I have realized why he acts the way he does. The computers are being used in his school with his students, yet his teachers are not being included. Not only are his teachers missing out on a potential money-making opportunity, but he is being pushed out of his own classroom. Not to mention that the new teachers brought to him- our mentors- are young and inexperienced. He is very devoted to the program and he just wants to make sure that it works right.

That’s why, despite everyone’s cynicism, we ultimately decided to invite the principal to class today to watch how our mentors CAN, in fact, handle the program. It was our way of proving to him that he can trust us.

And here we are, time to start, and just over half of us are here.

I was angry. Luckily, Benaja doesn’t know many swearwords so I don’t think he picked up on just how angry I was, but needless to say, I was fuming. We had told everyone to come to class on time today- that it was extremely important to the continuation of our program that they be there, on time, and with their game faces on. On top of that, this morning we had Michena call everyone early and remind them to come on time. Yet not even Michena was here in class.

When eight mentors made it through the door, I decided to just start our pre-class meeting. No reason to go through too much information with not everyone here, so we covered a few quick basics- things we had talked about yesterday that we would like to see today:

1) Let the kids enjoy themselves. Encourage them. It’s okay if their paintings aren’t very good or if they don’t understand something. They will. The lessons build on each other. If a student doesn’t understand something, have another student help them.

2) Have one person be in charge of class each day (it can be a different person on different days). When that person is talking, make sure all other mentors are LISTENING to them and paying attention!

3) Don’t stop. Be efficient with your time. Don’t spend 30 minutes reviewing something. Maybe 15 minutes max, then jump into the lesson. We don’t have all day.

Then, magic happened.

The principal came on by at about 1pm. By that time, we were getting into our lesson. Antoine was teaching one class, and Thelemaque, one of the new mentors, was teaching the other. Both of them succeeded with flying colors, especially Thelemaque. We were so grateful that Michena handed him the reins and let him teach because he was beautiful at it. He had a strong voice with the kids but was still extremely kind. The other mentors walked around and helped students as he spoke.

When the principal came, he was thoroughly impressed. Bill and I pulled him aside. Our plan that day was to hang onto him, to not let him take too much control of the class (as he often does) but to guide him along with us and to show him how great of a class we really have going. We showed him what we were learning that day, pointed out our teaching technique and what the mentors were doing. We asked him what he was thinking about the program. All he could say were good things. He told us that the students are coming to his office everyday asking if he can charge their computers before class (something we asked them to do) and a couple of mentors (including Thelemaque, our all star of the day) that come at 11am to make sure the computers will be charged fully by the time class starts. He was very pleased.

I mentioned the fact that the students seem to be doing well, taking the computers home. His eyes lit up. “Oh yes!” he said. “The students are taking personal responsibility for these computers. They are really caring for them since they get to take them home.” He cited a time when he saw a student very carefully put his computer in his backpack, and then very carefully carry his backpack on his back, checking regularly to make sure the computer was all right. He also mentioned a little girl who tells him that she is her family’s teacher. She regularly gives classes to her father, her mother, and her siblings when she brings the computer home.

I smiled as I thought about our first day here, when I was trying to convince the principal to let the kids at least try taking the computers home, because he would be surprised how much personal responsibility they will take for them. He had reluctantly agreed at this point. Now he seemed a total convert.

It looks like I still know how to work my charm.

We asked the principal to stay about fifteen minutes after class with us while we showed him what our mentor breakdown meetings were like. We spent a few minutes writing in our journals and then we talked. All the mentors were very happy with class that day. Bill and I praised them for listening to our quick advice about how to best guide the class. We all agreed together that these small changes had made a really big difference in the learning experience and the enjoyment of the students. Antoine pointed out the fact that some students didn’t want other students helping them- they felt like it was cheating. We explained that our computer classes are different from things they might be doing at their school, because we are all learning together. We need to encourage students and each other to work together. We are all learning. He nodded. It’s a new way of thinking, but once the kids get it, it’ll work.

The principal made a couple of notes to the mentors. At first I was nervous; he seemed to be trying to tell them what to do. Make sure the kids turn the computers off correctly, he said, for example. Then he said that he is very excited for this program; that he would love to see it expand. I added that we have a strong group of mentors who can really carry this program and he smiled in agreement. He says he hopes one day there will be enough computers for all the students in the grade to use.

We mentioned the computers in his office and asked if he might be interested in helping us develop a lending library where students could check out the computers for one or two days. They could put their name on a list, get a computer with a specific number, and in that way be able to borrow it. We mentioned Mendy, the genius 15 year-old that Bill visited the other day who was in the program last year and has since made his own radio-operated hydraulic model trucks and construction vehicles. He doesn’t have access to a computer, but the things he could do if he had one are amazing.

The principal agreed. He also mentioned he wants to get an internet hookup for the school. We couldn’t have been more pleased when he walked out the door.

I wiped my forehead of fake sweat the minute he left. Everyone laughed as we sighed in unison. We made it. From here on out, things would be different. We may not have 100% of his trust, but we have certainly moved mountains today.

I then asked if everyone wanted the good stuff or the bad stuff first. They said the good stuff.

I was so proud of everyone and congratulated them on an amazing class. Before the principal had come, I had told them to run class today like they would like to run it in the future. After class, I told them that if they ran class the way they did today, this program would be strong for a long time. I was very, very happy with our work today.

Then came the bad stuff.

I made a list of ways to measure success in the pilot. If we achieve all six things, we will succeed. I then read the list out loud. It involved six things:

-Using the teaching method outlined in Waveplace- allowing the kids to have fun, nurturing and encouraging them, not making them feel bad, working as a team to teach the lessons, and, as Tim has said, being “comfortable with confusion.”
-Developing a system that they can hold in the long term- not only logistical details like a place and time to have class, but shouldering the responsibility to see class through if something goes wrong, if they lose contact with Waveplace for whatever reason, if they don’t know what to do next. Making sure the program continues regardless.
-Teaching one lesson per day, and following suit with our six-week plan.
-Keeping computers in regular use by the students (ie not stopping the program).
-One other thing I forgot

And finally, regular attendance by mentors.

I became very stern (“Bad Beth” came out) and I told them that they cannot miss class or be late. I was very upset with the fact that some mentors rolled in at 12:45 when they were supposed to be in class at 12:30 and in the mentor meeting at 12:15. ESPECIALLY today- the most important day of the week- and we had told them that multiple times before. The kids come to class on time, many of the mentors come on time, why can’t they? I asked them if there was a circumstance that was causing people to be late. Because if there was, we could change it. We are responsible for our own class so we can change the rules if we can’t meet them. They said no, it wasn’t anything they couldn’t change. I told them that their tardiness was insulting to the people that came on time. There is no reason why they should take advantage of other people’s time like that. If you’re not coming to class on time, then you’re not teaching during that time. And if you’re not teaching, what in the world are we paying you for?

The teachers took what I said very seriously. Some of them started to point fingers about who is late more regularly. Finally it quieted down and Emmanuel spoke up. He said he understood and completely agreed with us. “Trust me,” he said. “It’s not going to happen anymore.” The other mentors nodded.

I took a moment to explain that I wasn’t trying to be mean. It’s just that we’re in a very critical period of time for this program. We need to PROVE- not only to the principal, though he is important, but to the entire OLPC community- that we can do this program! That it can work! But in order to do that, we can’t afford to make mistakes. We have to be on time. We have to have our game faces on. We have to go to class everyday and leave everyday as winners.

Olsen’s face softened. “Class was good today,” he said. “But tomorrow will be better.”

That’s the spirit. I knew they had it in them.

In the afternoon, Jean Jean, Antoine, one of the new mentors and her father and brother (and Bill and Benaja and I) went for a walk in the forest where we drank coconuts and munched on sugar cane. It was my first sugar cane experience and it was delicious, but only about as delicious as it can be eating pure sugar until you realize this is probably very bad for you.

This day had a rough start. And there is certainly still lots of work to be done in this program. But in many ways, the day was also full of sweet endings. And we were grateful for every one of them.

(from Sunday)

My body is burning.

It may be from the boat ride in Antoine and Emmanuel’s motorboat, followed by a solid two or three hour lay in the midday Haitian sun.

What can I say, I’m 24 years old. I’m not supposed to be reasonable yet.

Highlights include more saltwater in our faces than we had really bargained for, the stereo that Antoine broke out once we hit land, watching Michena dance with two sticks as if she were playing the drums, and, of course, the sand toilet that we all made (complete with water in the bowl and a handle to flush) for Benaja, who will be going back to La Gonave in a few days, the “land of no toilets.”

After returning, I was very, very burnt (and still am). Everyone got a kick out of how much my skin changed- and the difference in color if I give them a sample of what my “normal” skin looks like. We then all sat down for a three-hour repair class, which ended up going much better than the one in Darbonne because we were able to use Manilow’s projector, making it much easier to write out the commands that people need to put into Terminal to fix various things like: recalibrating the speakers, backing up information, adding programs, etc. Everyone seemed very appreciative and we even were able to fix the speakers on Pepe and Olsen’s computers, so it was fun to see the repairs in action!

Not much else to report today. Or perhaps I am just too burnt (and burnt out) to think. Benaja tried to teach me the “right” way to eat a mango today. It didn’t work out too well. But it was still delicious. He’s also almost done translating our math section. Thanks so much to Randy for some great lessons!

(from Sunday)

With a stomach full of delicious Haitian coffee, I turned around under the dome of Manilow’s inn and saw Antoine waiting for me. He grinned his big toothy grin and waved as he sat by the inn’s fountain. It’s Saturday, which means market day. Despite the fact that Bill, Benaja and I have all tried to explain to Antoine that I am happily in another relationship, Antoine doesn’t seem to get it. So we have a date today to go to the market and I can’t refuse because he didn’t really even ask me if I wanted to go.

I take Bill along.

The market is a street market. It stretches along the road that we usually walk to school. But this time it is just filled with people- people selling mangos, fresh meat, fish, soap, beef bouillon cubes, clothes, you name it. People milling through the street- and a few choice motorcycles and also one bulldozer for added effect. Antoine points out various items and tells me the names in Creole. “Zabriko,” he says, pointing to the biggest apricots I’ve ever seen. We buy three of them and head to his backyard, where his sister peels and cuts them for us. I’ve never eaten fresh apricot before so I had no idea they were this enormous- coconut-sized or maybe cantaloupe-sized. But it’s also entirely possible that these are just mondo Haitian apricots. We would never know the difference.

After the market, we head to school. Bill goes to shoot video of this amazing kid who wires his own remote-control cars. He was in the laptop program last year, and even though he doesn’t have a laptop now, he’s still a mechanical genius. “We’ve gotta get this kid a laptop,” Bill says, showing me the footage he took. I nod my head, stunned. I think about if he were in the USA. He’s 15 years old and I’m certain he would already have some killer internship at a lab. Instead he lives just outside of Petite Riviere’s center. He wires these toy cars using the metal from soda cans. He has headlights and tail lights on the cars. But he can only run them every once in a while, because he can’t afford batteries.

Class goes smoothly again. Michena’s group has fallen behind a lesson and they’re still doing lesson 4. Jean Jean (the new leader of Group 2)’s group plugs through lesson 5 and almost finish it entirely. They spend a LOT of time “reviewing” material- and by reviewing I mean going through the entire past lesson all over again for about 30 minutes! At the mentor meeting we talk about how such a long review will never allow them to teach enough class, and they need to cut it down. We also talk about how to encourage kids to help one another. Often there will be one kid who totally gets it, one kid who sort of gets it and one kid that doesn’t get it at all, and they’ll all be sitting right next to each other. By encouraging the children to help each other, they can be a much stronger class.

Although Michena is great outside of class, we’re having a little bit of trouble convincing her to listen to us in class. She likes doing things her way- she tells the students to come an hour earlier and leave an hour earlier, she assigns them extra work, she’s very strict with them. Today she told her students that they were leaving at 12 because she had to do her laundry that day. Unfortunately, we had a very important mentor meeting that day that she knew about, and besides that point, class ran until 12:45. We try to be open to her new ideas but she needs to know that she is taking away from other people’s experiences if she tries to do everything herself. Benaja spoke to her and she ended up coming to our mentor meeting after all. I think she is slowly easing into the idea of this program, and it’s difficult for her to surrender control and be open to the new ideas that Bill and I are presenting. But the “Three Bs” are all pretty confident that she’ll be rolling with our flow in just a couple more short days, because everything else is working extremely well.

Bill had a fabulous idea today of creating a sort of lending library with the extra 20 laptops from last year’s pilot that are currently sitting in the principal’s office. He wasn’t very keen on the kids taking the laptops home but after three classes everything is still going very smoothly in that regard. On Monday, at the mentor meeting that we hope he will attend, we’re going to talk to him about letting us develop this library. One of the mentors can take the helm. The basic idea is that students who don’t have computers can sign them out at this library and take them home. A way to get Bill’s genius kid using a laptop even though his pilot was over last year.

Alan and Pepe were here today- it was great to see them. One of the new mentors, Cassandra, was not. Another new mentor, Sheila, came quite late to class. We know that Pepe had a funeral to go to and Alan’s father is very, very sick, so we excused them. But we did talk about the fact that mentors need to be coming to class everyday or it doesn’t make sense to pay them for the classes they don’t come to. The program is short and we need them to be there. We can’t be having only four mentors in each group per day (which is what it’s been for a while now).

After class, it was horribly hot, so after some delicious all-sugar-no-high fructose corn syrup-Cokes, and after checking with Manilow to be sure we could have a repair class at his inn tomorrow and that our mentors could use his internet free of charge once per week in order to send Waveplace updates (he said yes to both), Michena, Ben, Bill, Antoine, Pepe and I hit the OCEAN! We swam for at least an hour. At one point, Antoine found the skull of a bull in the water! He picked it up by the horn and we all laughed hysterically. Then Benaja found a mango and we played catch in the water until that mango was ripped to shreds.

Tonight we have plans to go out dancing. I don’t know if it’s true, but I certainly wouldn’t mind.

(from Friday)

Each day the program at Petite Riviere is getting stronger, and I know the mentors feel it too.

After a successful tanning day and a difficult but enjoyable conversation with some Red Cross volunteers, I headed to school with Bill and Benaja in time for our 12:15 mentor planning meeting.

The planning meeting was a little less organized than we’d hoped. The mentors kept going into the students’ classroom because a lot of the students were already there. They seemed more interested in sitting with the students than in planning, but eventually we got them all to sit down. Then Bill, Benaja and I told them that this meeting was theirs to plan so we sat outside and waited for them to finish. We watched as they laughed to each other and seemed to joke around. We sincerely hoped that they weren’t slacking but had to give them space.

Class was slow to start. We had found a second empty classroom and divided the children among those classrooms. At first, Michena started to get pretty frustrated. I think she is used to carrying a lot of the responsibility of Petite Riviere’s program on her shoulders, so when we essentially took it from her she had a difficult time coping. She was used to teaching all 40 students at once with little help, in a single classroom. But this is not how the pilot is supposed to be conducted- nor is it the best way to conduct it. She resisted dividing the class into two but finally we convinced her. We put 10 of the best students in each class so that they were mixed equally.

Group 1 (Michena, Emmanuel, Cassandra and another new mentor whose name I have temporarily forgotten…Alan is also in this group but he wasn’t here today) rearranged the desks so that they were in a circle in the classroom. Group 2 (Jean Jean, Antoine, Olsen, Sheila and Pepe, who wasn’t here) put all the desks facing each other in a sort of dinner table fashion. It was interesting giving the groups their own space to work because they began to take their own responsibility for things. There weren’t enough multiplugs for all students to charge their computers but suddenly Antoine emerged with a couple of extras that he dug up from the school building. We were just a few plugs short for everyone.

It was maybe 1pm before class really started and the kids got Etoys going, though half an hour delayed is much better than yesterday. And then the magic began. Both classes went quite smoothly. Antoine and Jean Jean’s class seemed to breeze through things. Michena’s class had a little more difficulty but was certainly much smoother than yesterday. Everyone reviewed Lesson 3 (from yesterday). When class was over, Lesson 4 was pretty much completed in both groups. Bill, Benaja and I (the three Bs) were very pleased.

We met for our mentor meeting afterward. Unlike the Darbonne mentors, which sometimes had difficulty settling down and actually writing, these mentors got started right away and wrote a number of pages. When we began to talk, they had plenty to say. They were happy with the way class went today. They thought things were much smoother and the students were understanding much better. They mentioned that they were frustrated with the school’s principal, who seems to think that the computers belong to him. Sometimes he comes to class and takes attendance of the mentors. Then you won’t see him again for days. He tries to take ownership while also disappearing regularly. It seemed all the mentors were pretty jaded from his ways. We decided to schedule a meeting with him on Monday. We would invite him to watch our class AS A GUEST. After that, he’d come to our mentor meeting and we’d talk about how class is going, listen to his feedback and offer suggestions to him. At first, some mentors ate this idea up while others weren’t so sure. But Bill and I convinced them that you need to get the principal on your side in order to move mountains. You need to show him you can do this yourself!

Like Darbonne, the Petite Riviere mentors chose two of them to come to the class every morning and make sure the computers are charging so that they don’t run out of battery during class. We do have chargers to use, but not enough for every student, so making sure the computers are charged ahead of time is a good way for us to make sure things run smoothly. Students are instructed to leave their computers in the principal’s office first thing in the morning when they get to school. Then, when we have class just after school ends (at noon), the computers will be charged and ready to go.

After class, we all walked home together. Michena braided my hair. It was nice to have some “girl time” because I know that she’s been frustrated with the way class is going- really used to doing things by herself and not used to having to work with a group. And she’s good at what she does- the problem is that she needs to share her experience with the other four mentors, too! So we sat down and she braided my hair really beautifully, with various braids along the top going diagonally across my head (like Alicia Keys, she and some other people said). We joked and laughed with each other and it was nice to take some of the stress off. In class we are both pretty tough. But outside of class we’re great friends.

Antoine came by to see my new hairstyle. He brought mangos and after dinner we all sat around sucking mangos and talking shop. Today’s subject was whales, and exactly how much plankton do they eat? There was maybe a group of five or six of us debating the subject.

And then we turned in after another exciting day.

(from Thursday)

Sitting at Manilow’s Inn in Petite Riviere des Nippes, watching the sun as it sets over the ocean. Just got out of taking a hot shower in my hotel room and eating a delicious meal of conch with Bill and Benaja. Feeling a little bit like a queen right now!

We got to Petite Riviere at about 9:30 this morning and headed right into the school. I stupidly forgot a whole bunch of chargers in Darbonne- that’s the main problem right now, though we have enough chargers to last us if we use the chargers that were already at the school here, too. The principal of the school is nice. We convinced him to allow the kids to take the computers home, or to at least try it for a couple of weeks. Bill’s primary concern was it being unsafe for the children to have expensive materials with them- maybe they could get attacked. But it seems like that is not a problem here so even Bill was all right with letting the computers go. It was funny that the principal said that a lot of the children didn’t have electricity so there would be no need for them to take them home. Then, in class, a number of students went up to the mentors and said they had electricity and could they bring chargers with them so they could charge them at home? I smiled when I saw them do that.

Sun just went down. Beautiful sky, beautiful water.

The Petite Riviere pilot is quite different from the Darbonne pilot. First of all, the Petite Riviere mentors went ahead and trained the other five mentors and got the forty kids together. This may have been a miscommunication on our part. What they were supposed to do was have a class with five mentors and twenty kids, then after those six weeks, train five new mentors who would give class to twenty new students. When we came into class, we asked everyone to just do class as usual so that we could observe. It seemed like the group leader, Michena, taught the whole class in a single classroom for forty students, while everyone else walked around and tried to help.

I was taken back to teaching Sugar to 90 São Tomean students in a single classroom and thanked my past experiences because I already felt like I knew a bunch about the Petite Riviere pilot that hadn’t been covered before. The class was pretty rough- not many students would listen to Michena because other mentors were walking around trying to explain things at the same time. The class was supposed to start at noon but it didn’t really start until around 1pm, and even then it didn’t end until maybe 3 or 3:30 and they didn’t even open up Etoys until around 2:30! Benaja and Bill and I were sitting in the back, putting numbers on computers but mainly just shaking our heads. We had a lot of work to do.

Yet at our mentor meeting (which we instated for mentors in Petite Riviere too- 30 minutes after class and 15 minutes of planning before class) everyone was very receptive to our input. I think they were grateful to finally have all the computers they needed. It also seems like they’ve tried to talk to the principal about things they needed and he hasn’t really listened much. I tried not to preach, but we did cover a few topics. Here’s what we covered:

1) Brief introductions of ourselves and to our new mentors
2) Talked about how class went- mentors have a number of computer problems, often trackpad issues. We talked about how to resolve those trackpad issues and also scheduled a repair class for Sunday at 2pm
3) Made a concrete schedule for class- mentor meeting at 12:15, class at 12:30 until 2pm, then mentor meeting directly afterward. Broke up the class into two separate sections of 20 students with groups of five mentors (a mix of old and new mentors) in each. We put Michena and Alan with three new mentors and Antoine, Pepe and Jean Jean in a group with two new mentors. We asked the other group (not Michena’s group) to elect a group leader tomorrow. That person will be responsible for keeping in communication with Waveplace and with the other mentors.
4) Discussed the importance of attendance. Michena is already taking attendance of the students and had a strict policy that if they miss more than two classes in the six week period, they are pulled from the class.
5) Talked about Waveplace, the pilot, and what happens after the pilot. The importance of communicating with each other and with Waveplace so we can have concrete proof that the pilot is working and that we want to expand it!
6) Gave notebooks and pens to mentors. We like having them write for about five minutes after class so that they can keep track of what they did each day and add notes/questions/etc.
7) Distributed Etoys lessons, saying that they need to complete one lesson per day in order to stay on track with the six week program. They had only gotten to lesson 3 so far so we said, starting now, one lesson needs to be completed per day.

I think that’s it. There were a few questions but for the most part everyone was in agreement. We all walked out of school together. I miss my Darbonne friends but it was so good to see all the Petite Riviere people again!

Benaja made some enemies today standing up for us. Apparently a motorcycle taxi tried to overcharge us by about 66% more than what we normally pay, and Benaja stood up for us because that’s not what we paid the first time (we paid 15 goudes going one way and he wanted us to pay 25 going the other way). Some people across the street yelled at him and told him he was a bad Haitian because they saw us with lots of money and told Benaja that we paid 100 goudes last time and didn’t even ask for change, and he was trying to keep the motorcycle taxi from making his money. It was frustrating for us because we certainly didn’t pay anyone 100 goudes for a motorcycle ride, and on top of that we just felt unwelcome right off the bat from these people. We brushed it off but Benaja was pretty angry. He talked to Michena and Antoine and it looks like they’re going to talk to those people themselves.

But in many ways I understand these people’s pains. They are used to being second class citizens in their own country. When they see a white person, that person 99.9% of the time has money, and why not try to help yourself out when 10 goudes is really nothing anyway? Yet it’s certainly not a way to treat a newcomer, and particularly unwise to judge people by the color of their skin. We as citizens of the USA certainly know a lot about that…