With nothing scheduled in the morning, Beth and I were finally able to finishing repairing the remaining laptops. Out of 131 total laptops, we had only 7 were weren’t able to repair, which is half our 10% G1G1 donation dud percentage. Seven was also the magic number to make for every child to receive a laptop. Any more duds and we’d have to start taking laptops away. Put another way, we had exactly enough laptops, so our four extra mentors and three partners got to keep their laptops.
All told, we gave laptops to 29 adults and 95 children. Twenty-six adults finished the training, which is five more than the Matènwa workshop, last Spring. By April, our Haiti totals will be 52 certified mentors and 315 children taught. We’ve also trained another six mentors in 2008/2009 that didn’t reach certification status.
After preparing the laptops and checking out, Beth and I walked to AMSAI, taking our last long look at Delmas for this trip. The children’s class began with almost no mentors. At first we thought there was miscommunication as to whether they should come, since there was no mentor class that day. The children jumped right into their storybooks, eager to get to work.
As the class went on, more and more mentors showed up. At the halfway point, I gathered everyone behind me so that I could show them my Seymour Quest storybook. Reading each page and pointing out the programmatic elements, the kids and adults were noticeably impressed, indicating they wanted to put things like that in their storybooks.
Saying goodbye was emotional, with hugs for all the mentors and a short speech to the kids about the people in the world that very much wanted to see their storybooks, including me. I promised all that I would be back, though I didn’t know when. We ended with a group photo. This is about half the kids and half the adults.
Rushing to the bank with Sarita and Ysmaille, I tried to cash a Haitian check, but the bank wouldn’t allow a Waveplace check, only a personal one. Then off to the airport, though each road we tried seemed to be blocked. I still made it with time to spare, waiting for my flight while Beth and the trainers gave out laptops to the Restaveks in our other Cité Soleil school.
Traveling home, I was pretty much numb. Usually I talk with people around me, though this trip I simply finished my book, Travesty in Haiti, and closed my eyes, lost in thought. The usual culture shock surprises arrived: millions of lights, clean surfaces, smooth roads. By the time I woke my wife and daughter, whom I missed terribly, I was almost completely back in America mode, suffering little of the disorientation of the last two trips. Perhaps this was due to staying in a hotel this time, perhaps I’m simply getting used to the switches.
All in all, an incredible trip, though emotionally I can’t feel it yet. Time to rest, and rest.
When we first invited the trainers to our Cité Solei laptop handout, they were apprehensive. Evens had concerns about the “troublemakers” there. Jean-Jean had driving by, but had never gone in. I assured them that Alex, who was driving us, had been there many times and that we’d only have to travel about five feet from the car to the school’s gate. They said they’d think about it.
In the morning, we learned they had decided to come, though we then learned that Alex wouldn’t be escorting us, but instead someone we hadn’t met. I called Alex and let him know that everyone was nervous, what with bringing $6000 worth of computers into what the UN called “the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.” He arranged for two security guards to escort us. We’d pick them up just as we went in.
As we drove along Route 1 away from the airport, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Beth, Elizabeth, Evens, Jean-Jean, and the driver were all joking together in Creole, which for the most part I couldn’t understand. As we got closer, there was an ominous black cloud, clearly a large fire.
At the turnoff to Route 9, we parked the car to wait for the security guards. After a healthy wait, two very serious men got in the car with us. We drove through a few market streets, past the building that was on fire, and reached Route 9. Turning left, we saw the rows and rows of tin and tarp huts, though from Route 9 there was only a brief sense of this “poorest place in the world” (Mother Theresa).
We turned off the highway into a very narrow street. The friendly chatter died down as everyone looked at the windows, lost in our thoughts as we watched a new level of poor in Haiti.
Soon we were at the Cité Soleil Community School. The security men got out of the car, looked up and down the street, and opened the gate. We drove in and parked. With the gate locked behind us, we got to work getting the laptops out of the car to bring into the school.
The school itself was a place of joy. The children were engaged in their studies. The teachers waved hello, as most of them had been taking the training with us. I did my laptop introduction to the 4th grade class, and soon we were handing out laptops.
We all later agreed that there was a world of difference between this handout and the Acacia School handout. I spent some extra time telling them that the black arrow was like their finger inside the computer and that they moved their real finger on the trackpad to move the black arrow. When we asked them to explore on their own, most children simply sat, waiting to be told what to do next. The mentorship approach in such a setting is crucial. With much one-on-one encouragement, we soon had all the children exploring the laptop on their own.
Back at AMSAI, the children worked on their storybooks while the mentors helped. We’re all convinced that my initial Etoys/Storybook interleaving plan is the way to go. It makes things much more engaging for everyone, particularly the children.
We split things up again with a song led by Michel and Jean-Jean, after which I talked about variables, using a soccer game as an example.
For the mentor class, we discussed the videos and the lessons, given that this was our last mentor class. We showed the Gnome mode so they could watch the videos more easily. Apparently Sugar won’t launch OGG video files from the journal anyway, something I found out that day. It was bittersweet ending the class, since it was our last time, though I was happy we would all meet again the next day for the children’s class.
Today started with a trip to Ecole Nouvelle Orange, which was built by ProDev, an organization that visited us during the workshop last week. Two women from Israel picked me up at my hotel and we drove about twenty minutes north of Cite Soleil on Route 9. Their school, which opened last October, looked very new and very nice.
After talking about the school and the logistics of getting a pilot started here, we showed the XO laptop to the 4th grade class, in the Flamboyant room, letting them each have a turn playing the Maze game.
I’m always ambivalent about showing laptops to children unless we know for certain that they’ll receive them. As much as we say, “Maybe”, it never seems enough.
Surrounding the school, there are five new housing developments planned by large NGOs and governments, to help relocate people from the tent camps. Here’s one that was recently finished by the Venezuelan government. No one lives there yet.
Back at AMSAI for the children’s class, we showed them about variables, having them move objects around and discover on their own what X and Y do. Jean-jean then led everyone in a fun group song. I then introduced the Storytelling unit to both the mentors and the children at the same time, talking about Who, What, Where, When, How, encouraging the children to choose their own stories. For the rest of the class, the mentors helped the children start their storybooks. I was pretty amazed by what they were about to do in an hour.
For the mentor class, we covered lesson 9, Animation. The hardest part, of course, is convincing people to stop drawing, both children and adults. We had them each draw three frames of an animation and create a script to make it work. As before, some were able to do it immediately, while others struggled with Etoys mechanics, such as dropping sketches into the holder, not next to it.
After the breakdown, I walked home alone, even though it was getting dark. This was the first time I was actually a little scared in Haiti. Nothing happened, but I was very aware of my $1000 camera and $800 camcorder on my back, with a very different vibe when the sun goes down.
With a 9am scheduled pick up, I woke relatively late, with just enough time to drink some coffee and write my daily blog post. Elizabeth, Evens, and Jean-jean showed up at Visa Lodge first, then Ysmaille with the car. We loaded up twenty laptops and got for the drive up the mountain. Quarters were cramped, but spirits were high. Though I couldn’t understand much, everyone was telling jokes in Creole, including Beth.
The school was a wonder. Walking inside the gate of Acacia School, children were at recess, chasing plastic cups like soccer balls. My mood improves whenever I’m near children. I began taking photos and talking to the children with my limited Creole.
Upstairs in class, I introduced myself and the laptop. Surprisingly, most of the children raised their hand when I asked if they had a computer, which hasn’t happened in Haiti before. When I was describing the laptop, one of the boys asked if it had a touchpad and was disappointed when I said no. Again, this hasn’t happened before. We gave out the laptops and led them through putting their names and colors in. These kids were bright, no doubt.
As time went on, I learned that these were seventh graders, which is about two years older than our target age range. Caroline said they’d start the pilot and then the school would use the laptops for the kindergarten, first, and second grade students, which is below our age range. This was the last minute replacement school for JP/HRO, so clearly expectations hadn’t been communicated. I talked with Caroline for a bit to discuss how we could align our goals more. As we left, I passed a room and learned why the children were so familiar with computers.
Back at AMSAI, we set up the chairs and crossed our fingers to see how many children and mentors would show up today, given yesterday’s protesting. We were happy to see more than half the children and most of the mentors. Only the Cite Soleil mentors didn’t show for the children’s class, though they did show for the mentor class.
We started the children on Lesson 6, which teaches scripting. I made a big deal about how they were now officially computer programmers. Having the one-on-one mentoring was a great help as each showed their child how to drag out the tile to make a script, etc. After Lesson 6, we talked about storytelling, discussing what makes a good story: who it’s about, where they are, when it happens, what happens to them, how they resolve the story. We’ll be working on the children’s stories for each of the remaining days, devoting less and less time to each Etoys lesson.
The mentors class was tough. I taught Lesson 8 .. tests, which is pretty important. Some of the mentors were right there with me, picking things up immediately while others struggled with Etoys snafus, such as the ease of dropping things in the wrong place, etc. Elizabeth was ill and Beth was busy fixing computers, so it was just me, Evens, and Jean-Jean working the room. At the end of the class, I was truly exhausted. At our breakdown meeting we all agreed that we need one lead trainer and four group trainers, especially for the later lessons.
Beth came back to the hotel with me, where we had dinner and talked about non-computer things, or tried to. Around 8pm, Darma showed up for some laptop lessons. He was very impressed with some of the possibilities. I showed him collaboration and other Sugar stuff.
When I went to bed, I vowed to not again do a handout and three teaching sessions in one day. We really need to alternate lead trainers, otherwise burnout is inevitable, even over two weeks.
Early in the morning, we got word from Sarita that school was officially closed because of protesting. Tires were being burned in intersections. More protests were feared. Given that we would likely have only half of the mentors in class as well, we cancelled the mentor class too, as well as our trip to Acacia School for laptop handouts.
So, with pretty much no teaching to do all day, Beth and I hunkered down at the Visa Lodge and debricked almost all the remaining laptops.
Through the day, I checked Twitter to find out what was going on across town. Protesters set up barricades near the presidential palace, shouting “Leave Preval” and other less flattering slogans. It was officially the day he was supposed to leave office. He celebrated by announcing he’d stay in office another three months. While most see this as a good thing, the timing of his announcement (with people protesting in the streets) was perhaps a bit off.
As the day went on, I read about UN and police troops using tear gas. At one point, Beth and I heard brief gunfire in the distance. The hotel restaurant was empty. The streets that I could see were clear. Beth and I kept at our laptop work, discussing life and music and how to make workshops even less expensive. Things were a lot less exciting at the Visa Lodge.
Sarita and Darma joined us for dinner to discuss the future of AMURT and Waveplace. The coolest thing to happen to me all day was finding out that they had actually been to Goat Island, where my mom and I stayed in 1977. The hotel no longer runs, but the ruins are there. I simply must find a way to go visit that spot. It’s crazy how much I want to do this.
As I walked into the hotel restaurant area with my XO, a ten year old American girl spied it, clearly curious. I asked her if she’d like to see it and she nodded enthusiastically. Turns out her dad, also at the table, runs a secondary school in Croix-des-bouquets. We talked about Haiti and schools and laptops for the good part of an hour until Beth showed up for two hours of laptop prep.
After the requisite hour delay for traffic, Alex arrived with Evens and Jean-jean. Immediately stuck in traffic again, we picked up Elizabeth and made our way up the mountain to John Engle’s house to meet the Wozo Youth Choir. The trainers were in good spirits during the drive, though I could rarely understand what everyone was saying. I’m amazed at how good Beth’s Creole is now. She’s quite good at languages.
With others driving this trip, I’ve had quite a bit of time to stare out the window and take in the streets. While everything’s noticeably cleaner since November, there’s still a depth to the dust and grime and garbage that’s hard to put into words. With roads that are more pothole than surface, with sidewalks used as impromptu shops for furniture, clothing, and toiletries, with trash and sewage (you can tell from the smell) down the middle of the road, it’s pretty much a mess throughout.
Driving up the mountain, it gets better and better, though Petionville itself is not quite the oasis that everyone describes, particularly in the market area. Yesterday we drove through an organized protest, likely about the election, or Preval. The crowd was pretty calm, playing music with big horns and shouting something I didn’t understand.
At John’s house, we were greeted with music by the choir. After the laptop handout, the fifteen recipients were surrounded by 25 younger children who hope to get laptops too.
After the laptop class, Alex rehearsed the choir for a few hours, which was a delight. Forty children singing with undeniable enthusiasm, led by animated Alex, who clearly has a gift for working with choral groups. I played them “On Children”, a song my wife’s choir has performed, while Alex translated the lyrics. Jean-jean and Evens led them in other songs, showing just how animated these men can be as well. Elizabeth and Beth clearly had a blast as well.
As it started to get dark, we headed down the mountain, driving again through the maze of inner Delmas to find Elizabeth’s guest house. We agreed that in the future we would all stay together. As I returned to my hotel, there was a large crowd of Americans shouting in the restaurant area. The Super Bowl had started. Watching the game in Port-au-Prince seemed bizarrely unbizarre. I could have easily been in New Jersey with this crowd.
After dinner, I prepped the rest of the twenty laptops we needed for the Acacia handout the next day. Twelve screws off, a few commands through the serial cable, twelve screws on, reflash and prep. It was eleven before I finally went to bed. We’ve still got 40 more to do!
Today started with a drive out to Ysmaille’s neighborhood with the “Life Is Good” guys to see a morning session with the AMURT folks. Crowded in a trailer-sized space there were roughly 100 people, mostly young children. Peter & Rudy led songs with the whole room singing and dancing and smiling.
After I while I walked around outside, taking in the nearby tent camp, the all important context surrounding the room of joy I’d left.
After some errands with Sarita and Dharma, we returned to the hotel to find Susie (from Mercy & Sharing) having lunch. After catching up I mentioned the PlayMakers and the room of joy and she told me of six orphans who had died a few months back. “It’s too soon for celebrations.”
This got me thinking again about the wisdom of inciting enthusiasm in a place of grief. I asked Ysmaille about it and he said, “It is never too soon to celebrate. Children do not grieve in the same way as adults. They need joy to heal.”
Earlier in the week, I was leaning toward Susie’s thoughts on this, but I’m becoming more convinced of the outright joy approach.
Back at AMSAI, I taught the mentors the infamous lesson 7, which is likely the hardest of the ten. I managed to make things more “discovery”, which seemed to help greatly. By the end, we were glad we had only the one class that day as we were all very tire.
People ask us often, “How do you choose your schools?” I’d like to say, “Through a careful vetting process after an exhaustive search”, but it’s rarely like that at all. I’d say that our schools find us, usually in the most improbable ways.
Case in point: after dancing up a storm to RAM last November, I happened to meet Richard Morse, leader of the band, at the airport. We were on the same flight. I compliment him on his incredible music and the conversation steers to laptops and children. “You know, my mother has a school,” he says. Two months later, I’m staying at his hotel and before you know it, he arranges for a driver to bring Beth and I to his mom’s school.
The drive up the mountain was a reminder of my November trip, as I traveled the same road many times. Petionville is noticeably different than Delmas. When we reached the school, which was on the side of a very steep hill, there were no children, as fear of election violence was still abundant. We soon met Mr. Morse’s mother and she’d showed us her school.
She’s an absolutely delightful woman. Her staff seems quite good as well. I told them all about the laptop and the Waveplace program while we sat in children’s chairs. Usually the best indication of whether a school is suitable for a pilot is to what degree people nod their head enthusiastically when I mention key benefits to our approach. This group seemed very, very interested. At this early stage, they seem a good match.
Back at AMSAI, we set up the chairs, leaving lots of room for our forward-by, turn-by antics. In our preclass trainer meet, I asked who was going to “be silly” and they all laughed and said, “you are.” I pushed back a bit, saying I’d love to see them try, and Elizabeth agreed to try, “though it won’t be as good.”
Elizabeth was very good. The children seemed to have fun, though without knowing more Creole it’s hard for me to say whether they understood the point of the activity. Once the laptop lesson began, there was considerable confusion as people reached a common starting spot. I had suggested they skip sketches altogether and start with a star object from the supply bin, but the trainers decided to use sketches from the journal instead. I sat back and watched the clock while a good twenty minutes was lost getting everyone to the same place.
Talking with Sarita about it, I decided that today was the day that I took back the reins. I had known from the start that I would need to lead more, as the material gets progressively harder. Our trainers are new, they’re not quite level 3 mentors yet, so it was inevitable. They had been doing so great up until this point that I was hoping to be “useless” a little while longer.
Instead, I took charge of the mentor class. “Attention, everyone do this. Here’s some context. Now do this. Now this.” Drill sergeant Tim was back in action, barking out points and challenges while the trainers walked around helping everyone keep up.
At the end of the lesson, the group discussed things a bit and the general consensus was that they liked my teaching very much and preferred this approach. For myself, though, I was disappointed. Do this, do this, do this is a very rote way, though likely much more familiar to the mentors as a means for learning something.
Back at the hotel, I was exhausted and deflated, feeling like I had done exactly the wrong thing, setting a rote tone again, though knowing that the material was getting harder now, practically making into necessary. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll manage to ease back a bit and let them explore more. Ah well.
The other day, one of our mentors came to class very, very late. He had traveled from Cite Soleil to tell us that he would not be able to join us that day– because his two year-old daughter was shot in the streets. Luckily, it had only grazed her side, so she was going to be okay. A couple of political protests in light of election results (and election result expectations) had made the Cite Soleil streets a place that was very much not a place you’d want to be.
In spite of that, he came to class to tell us that he wouldn’t be able to make it today. He was actually concerned about his attendance because he cares so much about class.
There’s no quantitative proof yet that class at Amsai is a success. But if you just look at these kids’ faces, if you look at the mentors’ faces, you would understand.
They know this is something special. And they want to be here.
Immediately following the news that Martelly had officially made it to the election runoff came an announcement that he would be holding a press conference at the Hotel Oloffson. Beth and I had been having a hard time getting journalists to get back to us, so I decided to go have lunch at the Olaffson instead of attending the start of the children’s class. I was also curious to see Martelly for myself, given all that I’ve heard of him.
I asked my taxi to first stop off at Rue Magua, the street where AMSAI and Beth were located so I could talk to Beth about it. She doesn’t have a phone here, so the extra trip was needed.
At the Olaffson I had time enough for a Coke before I went down to pavillion below where the press had gathered. Making small talk with fellow foreigners, I managed to sidestep the fact that I wasn’t representing anyone but myself. I spoke with a gentleman from the Miami Herald and another woman who knew John Engle. All talk stopped when Mr. Martelly arrived. He gave his speech with professionalism and vigor. Given a choice, I’d probably vote for himself myself, though mostly from what I’ve heard from his cousin, Richard Morse.
After his talk, I introduced myself to Emily Troutman, who I’d written to before. She told me to email her again, and again. Her Twitter posts from Port-au-Prince have been especially insightful these last few months, so it was good to meet her. Upstairs, I spoke with Richard Morse. He offered to arrange a driver to his mother’s school, which we’ll visit today. On the way home, I took my first motorcycle taxi through Port-au-Prince. While riding, I thought again how quickly one becomes used to the destruction. Here are two photos from the trip . . .one is an example of the endless earthquake damage, another is a roadside mattress shop.
Back at class, I learn that only half the mentors and half the children have shown. Apparently the threat of violence, even given the favorable results, was enough to keep them home. We got some feedback that perhaps some of the trainers needed to prepare better, and that they needed to project more … be less timid as teachers.
Between the classes, I spoke with the trainers, highlight the need to be animated when presenting material. Some aspects of teaching are almost innate: projecting the material with enthusiasm and confidence, keeping things flowing, sensing the need for pacing changes.
I decided to lead the next mentor’s class, showing them the beginnings of scripting with my usual silly antics, bouncing into stuff with the paper compass, etc. The class was laughing and engaged. It seemed they appreciated my approach.
Here’s the thing though . . . it’s not about me. At the end of the trip, I need to be unnecessary. Talking to Beth about this, we agreed that it’s all mentoring, all of it. Mentoring the children, the new mentors, the trainers, ourselves. We’re all guiding each other, learning from each other, prodding each other to take risks and tackle challenges.
At day’s end, the group returned to Visa Lodge for drinks and conversation. I spoke at length with Michel, our translator, who very much wants to work more closely with Waveplace. As always, I didn’t promise anything, as he is currently connected with AMURT and because we really don’t know what will happen next with our workshops.
It’s difficult though . . . everyone wants opportunity, everyone wants to give their all to our efforts. I want nothing more than to give them all work, though we don’t have the money yet.
Time will tell.