(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.

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