Logistics have a magic when you’ve acquired an intuitive sense for numbers and constraints. Most of yesterday was spent on the phone with Beth, talking out the various spreadsheets and plans we’ve got going. My own number goals are somewhat exacting: covers all constraints, easy to remember, easy to combine and adjust in my head, feels fair and affordable.
Finding workable numbers is a real skill which is surprisingly similar to my chief talent: designing software. Lots of conflicting constraints, lots of stuff to keep in mind at once, lots of interdependencies … all boiled down into something simple and workable.
As an example, Beth and I were trying to determine how much we should charge a location for Waveplace support over time. The goal is to find the smallest number that covers our costs. So starts a string of interdependencies dropping from my brain while Beth mostly says, “Sure”, “Ok”, “Sounds good.”
Tim: “Let’s say we get all forty locations going full time next year, with 25 laptops apiece, that’s 1000 active laptops. Forty locations means 200 mentors, with 10 level 3 mentors overseeing all of them. How much time does it take to read reports and respond to 10 L3 mentors. (Beth talks for a while about her experience and comes up with a 30 minute average per week per report.) Okay, 10 mentors means 1 hour per day just for L3 reports.
Tim: “Now how do we deal with those 1000 laptops? Assume complete communications, with our Q&A activity running, with Twitter-like updates, emails, possibly forum messages … call this the “response stream”. How much of this is generated per week? How much do we need to read and respond to ourselves? (We stumble around trying to imagine this a while.) Okay, let’s just pick a number. Out of 1000 active laptops, let’s say an average of 9% of them generate something we need to deal with. What’s the average time needed to deal with each? (More stumbling, which results in a 10 minute average) Okay, that’s 900 minutes, which is … 15 hours exactly. Add that to the L3 mentor time and you’ve got 20 hours a week supporting our locations … 4 hours a day.”
Tim: “Now let’s calculate our cost per hour. (Tim pulls up his spreadsheet and finds the monthly cost for Beth, including salary, health insurance, payroll taxes, etc.) Okay, divide this by days per month and hours per day and we get … just a bit over $25 an hour. This means support will cost us $500 a week, or $2000 a month. Since we’re supporting 40 locations, this means $50 a month per location.”
Tim: “Ok, looking at our per class monthly costs, we’ve got $600 for mentors and $600 for power/internet/food, which is $1200 a month or $14,400 a year. With support at $50 a month, that’s $600 a year, which added to $14,400 makes an even $15,000. Oh, great, now people are gonna think we just picked that number!”
Anyway, this is one example of dozens from the last few days. Picking numbers that are low enough but still cover costs is an art in itself, and such serendipitous moments like the one above (having it equal an exact $15,000) happen pretty often. Number sense is a talent. Not losing money from bad numbers is another.
Back to daily blogging, as we’re 40 days away from another trip to Haiti on January 8th. Our next workshop is scheduled for January 10th to January 21st, with the first pilot starting on the 10th and going until February 18th and the others starting January 24th and going until March 4th. At this point, we’re working with Haiti Partners, AMURT, JP/HRO, Restavek Freedom, One-By-One Leadership, and Wozo Youth Choir.
Spent the morning reading news of yesterday’s election in Haiti. Most of the candidates held a press conference alleging fraud by Preval’s party, asking for the results to be thrown out. Here’s a picture from a polling place that was ransacked by protesters. Those are votes on the floor.
Today Beth and I are working on the new Waveplace accord, an informal contract between Waveplace and partner organizations. We’re also making our “3000 laptop proposal”, primarily for OLPC who will soon decide what to do with all the laptops that have been donated by G1G1 recipients since Nicholas Negroponte’s plea to donate laptops for Haiti last January.
Should be a busy week. We’re also waiting to hear about our bid for a 4 month project for a very large NGO doing work in Haiti. Could be exciting.
Had a great phone conference yesterday with Sarita from AMURT about hosting our next Waveplace training workshop next month. Turns out their location couldn’t be better for the pilots we want to hold in Port-au-Prince. Their AMSAI school is literally in the middle of everything, just ten or fifteen minutes from all sites.
I asked her about current tensions over the UN protests. She said there was definitely a different vibe in the capital, though for those that have been through other events, this episode wasn’t particularly troubling. Hours after our talk I got word about the protests near her. Guess I picked the right week to go home.
Beth and I are now working on the details of the upcoming workshop and pilots. Looks like we’ll be having five with 25 laptops each. Twenty-five mentors will meet each day at AMSAI to take the training workshop and work with AMSAI kids. We’ll be announcing which partners we’re working with (other than AMURT and Haiti Partners) as soon as we have green lights from everyone.
We really couldn’t ask for a better workshop location. Ample electricity and Internet. A great space with close access to kids. Centrally located in an urban location, so mentors can travel by tap-tap easily. Best of all: AMURT, an organization dedicated to many of the same principles and approaches.
Later in the day, I was interviewed again for the Disaster Recovery Hour radio show in NYC. My co-guest was Nanci from MMRC, who seems like a good connection for us. These are the “cowboy EMT” guys.
Anyway, hoping to announce the pilots soon. The biggest variable is the calendar dates. Our original plan was to fly in the day after the Haitian elections. Early December may give way to early January, given current tensions. Gotta love it … first cholera, then a hurricane, now riots.
Haiti is an interesting place.
Now with a few days to rest and tend to homefront fires, I’m ready to turn two weeks of talk into a plan for sustained action. Eighteen organizations are interested. Now it’s time to choose which to focus on first and how exactly to proceed.
I’ve decided to keep up the daily blog, given the tremendous feedback I keep getting. Thanks to everyone who has retweeted and emailed. It helps to know you’re out there. It’s an odd kind of community we’ve got, but it’s almost as real as if we were sitting in a circle helping each other.
SO! How to choose? We’ve got 100 laptops sitting in customs and a Waveplace workshop planned for December. We’ve got another 50 we can scrounge up if we need to, which means we’ve got room for four to six pilots. This means saying “no” (at least for now) to twelve rooms of hopeful kids and adults. Like some sick Santa Claus list, I need to decide who’s helped and who waits.
Can I tell you just how much this completely sucks? Yeah, in a minute I’ll start writing about my very rational reasons for who we picked, but there’s nothing rational about this:
How on earth can I say “no” to these kids, or the hundreds of others I met on my trip? Yeah, if someone wrote a half-million dollar check I wouldn’t have to, but we’re on a shoestring here, so choices need to be made.
To keep things easier, we’ll focus on just the December stuff. Which organizations do we send accords (aka contracts) to for our next workshop and pilots? Which groups get to choose the kids and adults who get the 100 to 150 laptops?
Here’s the rational part: Money. Realness. Publicity.
We’re choosing to favor organizations that can fund the pilots, both now and in the future. We’re choosing organizations that already have a spirit of guided discovery and progressive education. We’re choosing organizations that can help spread the word about our collective efforts.
Why? The greatest good for the greatest number. Each of these initial laptops is a seed that needs to be planted into fertile ground. If we want our efforts to grow, if we want models of demonstrable success that can inspire similar efforts, we need to stack the deck to increase our odds of success.
Yeah, it sucks to say it out loud, but that’s the way it is. Later we’ll get to the ones who can’t afford it, to the ones with no teachers, to the ones who don’t know any journalists. But until then, we need to build a solid foundation.
Sitting at a Starbucks with my XO 1.5 in Gnome mode. This is quite the little portable machine now that I can use the adult software too.
I’m watching the stream of Pennsylania caffeine addicts plunk down their $1.50+ for their morning fix, while listening to smooth sounds from Frankie and friends. People are talking about family visits and minor car damage. There’s a stranger-ness to the awkward smiles and hellos between us. We’re behind bubbles even when we talk.
Adam’s mom wrote me an email about my blog. She called this “culture shock,” relating my re-entry observations to her return from Africa a few decades ago. I’m not quite sure what to do with this feeling, this fresh perspective. As such, I’ll write and keep writing. I’m hoping to remember things a little longer this time.
So now with two lazy sleepy re-entry days and Tuesday before me, what next to do with what I learned and who I met during my time in Haiti? What are the next steps?
Of primary concern is money, as all else depends on it. I’ve a habit of rushing in with debatable financial faith, which serves me well. I’m good at making something from nothing. Entrepreneur means “risk-taker”, and I am one. Rarely have I had a pitch that connected so completely with so many as Waveplace. Now comes the time for specific proposals to specific people. I have to close the deal.
Such terms and talk in the non-profit world make some nervous, as it feels less than altruistic to talk of sales and signing. But here we are, as usual, on the edge of hope and happening. The good we seek will not happen without a signed check or two and this resolve requires a different skill set, a business minded one.
Sustainable means money. There’s no other way around this.
Re-reading from the start of these posts, here’s a quick summary of things I learned during the last trip.
* If you can speak French, you’re fine on the Haiti mainland. It was absolutely no problem traveling with Adam translating. There were times when Adam translated for Michena and then Michena translated in Creole, but all in all, there’s always someone around that can understand French.
* Bottled water is abundant. I never had to use my water purifier, which I am hoping to return to LL Bean for a full refund.
* Suits are unnecessary, laundry is easy, though hard to dry. Make sure you give your clothes a few days to dry, particularly if there’s no sun. Be prepared for somewhat smelly clothes if you do laundry.
* Definitely buy a local cell phone at the airport These are cheap and plentiful and extremely useful while you’re there. Don’t think, just do it. Include US minutes too.
* Rent a 4×4 pickup (with $0 deductible insurance) and drive it yourself. If you can handle extremely bumpy roads, incessant pedestrian and motorcycle cutoffs, jumping into traffic, and changing flat tires, your best bet is to drive yourself. Don’t go by yourself in the rough neighborhoods without a Creole speaker, preferably Haitian. Make sure you get home before dark.
* Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it! Never trust vegetables unless you know for certain that they were washed in purified water. The only time I got the runs was from a lunch buffet at the Visa Lodge where I had some salad.
* Always bring more USB drives than you need.
* Never be late to a new site visit. There might be a room full of Haitians waiting to sing to you.
* Always leave room in your schedule. New opportunities came up nearly every day, so having some flexibility in our schedule was a great help. We saw double the number of schools anticipated and almost double NGO meets.
I woke early in my airport hotel bed, then went looking for coffee. Two women were sleeping in chairs near the elevator on my floor, as were many people downstairs in the lobby adjoining the airport concourse. I later learned the airport had sold out, so these thirty or so people were making do with an uncomfortable night.
After a trip to Starbucks across the way, I settling in to a free lobby chair to drink coffee and play with my well-traveled XO. The women who were sleeping on my floor sat across from me. One of them said, “Did you steal that from a kid?” (her tone was light, not accusatory.) I went into the story of my two weeks, with both women asking questions in a “boy-did-I-have-a-rough-night” sort of way. They were pleasant, friendly, and interested. Clearly though, I was back in the States.
Like so many Americans, these women had no conceptual frame of reference for the conditions I had just come from. Just ninety minutes by air from where we sat, Haiti belies description. My words and photos fall short of simply sitting and watching as you drive through Port-au-Prince. The many tiny contrasts I experienced as I traveled home to Pennsylvania .. shiny surfaces, orderly rows of parked cars, garbage cans everywhere, running water, people waiting for you to turn .. these tiny unnoticed luxuries are arrayed in such a dizzying abundance that words fail.
As I waited on line in security, a situation developed where one line was shorter than the other. The TSA rep called several people from the back of my line to the front of the next. I stood silently while two people complained bitterly behind me. “It’s just not fair, they should do this and that”, etc, etc. So small a thing, an extra five minutes, to ruin your mood and those around you as well.
WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CAUSE FOR COMPLAINT.
We Americans are selfish, entitled, crybabies whining that our food is cold when around us millions have nothing. If there’s one thing I hope to hold from my recent trip to Haiti, it’s this: Gratitude for the many, many, gifts we are each given. Each walk through the mall, each drive to work, each TV show, each meal, we are each bathed in indulgences of a kingly proportion.
Later, dining with my wonderful daughter Isabel at the Hotel Bethlehem while we waited for her mom to finish a concert, I mentioned to our server that I had just returned from Haiti and was looking forward to my Hotel B Burger. She mentioned that she was a figure skater and had performed in Haiti with the Disney on Ice Tour. I’m pretty sure she mistook Haiti for another Caribbean island, but I still love the idea of Disney on Ice performing for the children of Haiti, providing Disney brings their own electricity to freeze the floor and light the hall. Most would roll their eyes at such a thought, but the truth is … the children of Haiti would absolutely love the show. I can see them watch it now.
As I type this, I’m sitting on a plane at Miami Airport, waiting to fly north and home. Last night I had my first hot shower in a while, my first flush toilet, my first guiltless power-up for all my devices.
Yesterday started with goodbyes at John’s house. John, Merline, Layla, Daniel, and Alex were truly a home away from home these past eight days. Saying goodbye was bittersweet, with promises to soon return.
I then met Hannah for a meet with Valerie of World Vision, which went very well. There is a strong possibiity for a year long grant to help three schools in Port au Prince that focus on differently abled children, which would be wonderful.
We then drove to the Amsai school once again, making this my third visit in the last week. The children have grown to recogize me (and my laptop). They crowded around and held my hand. One little girl was using the Paint program and wrote “I love you”, then handed it back to me with a smile.
Adam’s Blue Tarp group toured the school with Sarita. We discussed the upcoming December workshop more with her, Hannah, and Darma. I had a good long time to simply sit in the space. It feels right. It feels like history.
Adam, Hannah, and I then went to lunch at the Visa Lodge, the site of our first Haiti workshop. We discussed numbers, and philosophy, and emotions. It was so good to spend time with Adam again, bringing our trip full circle. We drove to the airport and dropped off the rental and said goodbye.
In the airport, I met Richard A. Morse, the owner of the Hotel Olafson where I’d danced up a storm the night before. Apparently his mother has a school and he knows Jimmy Buffet. His cousin is Martelly, the rapper presidential candidate. Our talk was very interesting.
On the plane, I sat next to a man from Uruguay who worked at the IDB, which is one of the organizations we had hoped to meet, but never connected with. He gave me great insights and contacts for a future follow-up.
All in all, an amazing trip. I visited 20 schools and had 18 meetings in 12 days, which is almost double what we’d hoped. More than this, our upcoming pilots are planned with excellent partners and wonderful locations.
Ah, electronic devices need to be off. Take care, everyone.
Started down the hill yesterday for my meet with JP/HRO, the Sean Penn Camp, with calls aplenty trying to coordinate the day. Note to self … don’t talk on a cell phone while you’re navigating through the Petìtionville market during rush hour. Found my way to the Petionville Golf Club, which has been turned into a camp, and had a great meeting with Lisa and Shannon from JP/HRO. Things look good for a December pilot.
Peter from Haiti Partners joined me at the club, then we drove up and up and up to Save the Children for a meet with three women, one of them just in from Washington DC. Initially, they seemed uninterested, as their focus is very much disaster recovery, but then we started talking about restavek children and after-school programs and they seemed much more receptive.
After Save, we drove to the Amsai school again to pick up supplies to deliver and I ran into Sarita from Amurt, who’s becoming a valuable ally. She showed me the workshop space upstairs and we agreed that it would be an ideal location for our December workshop, with Amurt as a much stronger partner than expected. I also got to spend more time with the kids, which as always was a highlight.
We picked up Hannah and drove to the UN “logcamp” where many NGOs were clustered in little trailer camps. We meet with a gracious and helpful woman from the education section of Unicef who offered to set up a presentation to a group of partner NGOs, where we could tell them of our approach and ask for the help and guidance in conducting future pilots and developing courseware.
Back at home, I met John’s brother and his friends, and then we all went out after 11pm to the Hotel Olaffson to watch RAM, an incredible band. I danced until I was pretty much soaked and we finally returned home after 2am.
I will never complain about traffic in the States again. Yesterday was one standstill spot after another as I toured five schools with Djougine from Restavec Freedom. This wonderful group works with very poor children who have been given to wealthier Haitian families, where they are essentially treated as slaves without education, free time, or much food.
First along the infamous traffic on Rue Frere to the Restavec headquarters…
Then across to Route 9 for a visit to a primary school with many restavec children that Restavec Freedom has convinced families to allow to attend school.
I presented the laptop and Waveplace program to the school director there. He seemed very enthusiastic and grateful. I suspect this will be one of our schools. We then went down the road to a secondary school where more restavec children are taught. We are hoping to train these older children as mentors, so they may work with the younger children.
We headed down Route 9 into Cite Soleil to visit a third school which was inside a gated complex besides a very large church. Djougine told me that an afterschool program is held here on weekdays which would be perfect for our efforts.
After a stop for lunch (which like everything else that day was a very long wait), we headed through downtown Port-au-Prince to Carrefour to Visit Institution Mixte La Providence, a school associated with our coordinator’s boyfriend’s family. Due to the traffic we were too late to meet with the school’s director, though we did speak with the afterschool director and demonstrated the laptop to several children.
Our last stop was a women’s adult literacy center, where we delivered a chalkboard from Restavec Freedom. Here as every other school I’ve visited, Haitians appeared very serious about education and the opportunities it represents.
After yet another grueling drive across Port-au-Prince, I dropped of Djougine and made my way up Rue Frere through more standstill traffic, to finally collapse on the bed once again. I did get to video chat with Paula and Isabel, which was a big hit with Daniel, John’s son who is the same age.