(from Wednesday)

Next to Joseph’s family’s house in Darbonne (Leogane) there is an equally large wooden shack with a tin roof. It was quickly built two weeks ago when the family returned to their plot of land after living in a tent community after the earthquake.

The original house is a beautiful cement building with white window gratings and sheer curtains that sway in the breeze. It is calm and, besides the curtains, unmoving. In this sense, its mere existence puts a new twist on the recent reality TV shows like “Survivor” and “Last Comic Standing”. For this, with near certainty, is the last house standing in Darbonne. The one home that was left untouched when everything else fell to the ground.

If you didn’t know any better, you would think the inhabitants of this house were pack rats. Everywhere you turn there are clothes, small appliances, cleaning tools, cookware. Being the only house around has its responsibilities. The whole town keeps what stuff they have salvaged from their own homes inside its strong, apparently earthquake-proof walls. Just behind this house (which is one floor and was awaiting a second floor addition) was the two-floor house that Joseph lived in. Now it’s just a couple of pretty tile designs on a stage-like platform. Inside this house was where Joseph’s American friend (a Quaker doing what I assume was missionary work) was staying. She lost her leg when the walls came down.

People in the town know better than to trust cement ceilings now, and for this reason, Joseph’s family constructed a number of quick houses with tin roofs so that if something were to happen again, no one would be hit by a cement ceiling. They are a sort of “brownie mix” houses- quick solutions under time constraints. When we arrived in Darbonne, his family apologized profusely for keeping us in there. They know that the house is Spartan, gray and without much light. But if they kept us in the cement house, the whole town would be sleepless in agitation.

In Joseph’s small shanty house is a carving on the floor upon entry.
“13-03-10: Apres le seisme” it says.

March 13th, 2010: After the earthquake.

At class yesterday, we drove by enormous school buildings that had all crashed to the ground. I hadn’t seen that many fallen buildings before. The way they look, you can visualize exactly how they fell. Slight angles that are unnatural to the buildings, like a child that breaks their leg when falling out of a tree, the bones of a leg poking out in strange directions. The roofs of these schools slide diagonally to the ground, crushing the windows and doors below them.

We get out of John’s car and walk past a number of these buildings . We approach a quiet, woodsy area. About 30 students are sitting in a circle with our Darbonne mentors in this shady spot. They look like normal kids. Bill may have an idea of what they have been through because he was here not long after the earthquake, but for me, it seems nearly impossible to place these faces in such a catastrophic series of events. Yet the effect, especially after we hand out the computers, is surreal. We divide the students and mentors into two groups and let them sit outside in circles about 100 feet from each other, as they refuse to go underneath the school’s cement ceilings. Here are these students sitting around with laptops in their hands, putting their names on their computers, exploring their many functions. Here is an area with trees and shade– nutrition. Vitamins. And around them, tent classrooms, fallen buildings, rubble. Minerals.

Here are the students in the OLPC pilot program in Darbonne. Here they are learning. Here they are building knowledge at ground zero, where the world as they know it crashed down.

From my experience with teaching this laptop program, I find it best to give mentors a lot of responsibility early on. Not to drown them in information, but to make them familiar with decision-making, taking initiative, and troubleshooting, while we’re still around to guide them That way when we’re gone, they don’t collapse at the onset of problems, but are, at some level, comfortable with uncertainty and with both communicating and finding solutions to their problems.

Trying my own tactic today, Bill and I gave a brief introduction to the course and had everyone introduce themselves. Then we dove right in, dividing up the teachers, talking to them about what they would do that day, and then letting them take the course by the reins. Each group approached class differently. In one group, they relied on one sole mentor to guide the class out loud and then the other mentors walked around and helped. In the other group, all five mentors walked around introducing steps in a sort of rolling fashion.

After class, we sat around with the mentors and talked about how it went. I have mentioned before to others that, for me, communication is key. We meet before class for five minutes and talk about what we’re going to do. Then we do it. Then we sit around after class and discuss how it went, the problems that we came across, and what we’re going to do tomorrow. Bill and I passed around notebooks and pens, feeling that it was important for mentors to be able to make their own notations as the weeks passed. We told the mentors that we’d like them to write either in their notebooks or in their XOs after every class. Then at the end of the week, the group leaders would take all that information and file a report with us via email. We also passed around the outlines as we told the mentors that we’d like to jump into the first Etoys lesson tomorrow. They all agreed.

I am impressed with our teachers’ memories. They nearly perfectly recreated our first class- teaching kids how to put their names on their computers and choose their colors, make friends using the neighborhood view, and other things. We’re meeting at 3pm and going for an hour and a half, though we might meet earlier, like 2pm, so people can go home sooner. There are a number of students that have a long commute- up to two hours- home, and we want them to be able to arrive home before dark.

There are a number of things we need to talk with John about, too. Ten students each from three schools were chosen for the program. One of the schools is very far away, so ten students (and two of the mentors, who live near the school) need to travel by motorcycle to get to the program. The mentors wanted to know if they could do the pilot program at their school facility, which I believe has electricity in it. Two teachers accompanied each group of ten students. I think the teachers thought that the pilot program would be carried on at their own schools, and not all together in this one school. We are working with our mentors to iron out the best way to guide the program. I think at this point we want to let the six-week pilot run at this school, but hang onto the opportunity for the program to expand to the three schools after the pilot ends (and if the laptop program can continue). We have also considered letting Renia and Naomi, the two mentors that live near the far-away school, run their own classes after the first two weeks, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Not too many technical problems with the computers at this point (the ones that worked in the first place, anyway). Because there is electricity available at this school (via generator) as well as the faraway school, and some students have electricity in their homes, we agreed to make it a requirement that students come to computer class with fully charged batteries. They can do this by leaving their computers in the school building overnight or taking them home and recharging them at home or some other way during the day- whatever they deem best for their individual needs. But during class time, we will not be charging computers because classes will be conducted outside and that is just too much organizing on a day to day basis, getting extension cords from inside to reach out to two individual classroom environments. With classes that are only 1.5 hours long, the students will be able to use their computers and still have charge after class. By taking ownership of the charging of their computers, they will be taking ownership of the computers themselves, and I hope that also means they will care for them accordingly.

Lacking a number of USBs and also trying to see how we can fix the 40 computers that won’t start as of yesterday. Not sure how to do that in an area with no internet and little resources, but Bill and I are putting our survival skills to work.

When all was said and done, we thanked the mentors for a great class day. I told them to come by Joseph’s house anytime they wanted because Bill and I were hoping for friends. Naomi’s eyes lit up. “I have caves near my house!” she exclaimed. We decided that after class on Saturday all of us mentors would get together for a field trip to the caves so that we could have some fun.

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