Just got an email from Shawna, one of the Restavek Freedom mentors. She says that they have reached Lesson 4 and that the students are learning really well.

After hearing from the other mentors about the work they’ve been doing with their kids– telling stories, doing math, perhaps long finished with Etoys– it might seem odd to be happy that the Restavek kids are only on lesson 4 of Basic Etoys.

But I want to explain to you why this is perhaps more miraculous than you may expect.

Restavek children are children that work for families for food and shelter. They are orphans, or have been sold by their parents. They are child slaves, offered no pay, and often treated with disrespect. Restavek Freedom is a remarkable organization that has worked wonders convincing families to allow these children to attend school and to gain a basic education. Their participation in the Waveplace program is, itself, astounding.

These students have never seen, let alone touched, a computer. Imagine how difficult it was for them to understand how a touchpad coordinates with your finger, or how you click on something to view more information about it. The students are hardly literate; can hardly type their names. Knowing this, the mentors were a little bit worried about how the students would come along in class.

On our last day, I had a little talk with the mentors before we left. I told them that these students were guaranteed to be slower than other students, simply because they had never really experienced formal education, basic literacy, or any sort of computer knowledge. This class would be challenging for them, but also exciting. The students will learn in leaps and bounds.

So imagine that these students are now actually learning how to coordinate their hands enough to draw objects, and then are able to change their settings so they can rotate, stretch, repaint, and move them in other ways. These students who didn’t know anything about what a computer was or how it could respond to human touch are now interacting with objects– that they created themselves– on a computer screen. These students, who are told day by day to work long hours with little rest, are now the ones telling an object what to do. With their computers, they are in charge.

Can you imagine how empowering that is?

Just had a talk with Caroline Hudicourt and the mentors at the Acacia School.

Wow.

Can you believe that things there are CRUISING? The kids are going home everyday hungry for more. In fact, a number of the students are finishing their assignments well before their due dates. Other students are actually teaching the mentors things that they discovered.

Mentorship between the kids themselves at Acacia is huge as well. The kids are actively helping each other. They are incredibly engaged. Caroline and the other mentors couldn’t be more impressed with their work.

We encouraged the mentors to write their thoughts down after each class (they are holding class twice per week). That will enable them to write better reports, which Caroline will then send to us. Keeping in good communication is key.

But who could ask for a better pilot? Kids who are hungry to learn and who are learning faster than ever, teachers who are excited about the next lessons– it’s a dream come true.

Unfortunately for the Acacia school, there are more students than there are laptops so the kids are rotating their use. Each student must go without a computer once every six days in order to make the rotation work. It certainly isn’t ideal, but I’m impressed that they are doing what they can to make this pilot as successful as possible.

I feel like cheering them on.

Just got off Skype with Benaja and the mentors at the Cité Soleil Community School (CSCS). It’s amazing to find, time and again, that often the schools that come from the most modest means are the ones that are have an unstoppable passion for these classes.

The mentors at CSCS have tried to make the 25 laptops they have available to ALL grades (1-6), as the children have been begging mentors so much to let them participate. Though it’s not exactly the plan to let *everyone* participate in a pilot (it’s important we have multiple mentors in each class as well as the perceived ownership of one laptop by each child, even if it’s too unsafe for the child to be actually taking the laptop home), I admire the mentors’ desire to spread the learning. It’s a compliment, really– it shows that they want to make something big work, even with little means. It’s hard to be annoyed or even frustrated in the face of so much enthusiasm.

We asked Benaja if the kids were enjoying their laptops. The last time we had seen them, they were being handed out to the students for the first time. I remember guiding the kids through using the touchpad to direct the cursor, and showing them how to take pictures. Many of these students had never seen a computer before, let alone touched one. They had no idea how to even begin using it.

Today, Benaja tells us that “the computers are the best things at the school for them.” What he says afterwards makes me laugh, then somewhat somber.

“When they are using the computers, they don’t even want to eat their food,” he says.

I know how sharp the pangs of hunger are for children in many areas of Haiti, and particularly in Cité Soleil. I think about the times they moan that they can’t learn anymore without eating something; that they have lost their attention and focus to the roaring of their own stomachs. “Tell them to eat!!!” I respond, lightly (sort of). Benaja laughs.

But my next thought is more peaceful. If the hunger roars can be quieted for an hour, we are one step closer. If the children are so engaged that they have forgotten how hard their lives are, let that be a blessing.

Things are getting exciting here as we count down until March 4th (or March 6th, depending on the email announcement), when we make our decision about who will get the next — and last — 200 free laptops sent over to Haiti by OLPC.

Then we’re hoping to do a Waveplace workshop with them in April. Should be lots of fun.

I’ve been in touch with our mentors– both from our workshop last year and our most recent one this past February. I’ve been particularly impressed with the work being done at the Amsai School. They’ve been sending us very detailed weekly reports, and they’ve been doing a great job keeping class organized from day to day.

Dany, the group leader, told me that the students are all learning at different speeds– but the beautiful thing is that when one student understands something, s/he goes to help other students in need.

This is a mindset that I’ve found difficult to cultivate in Haitian schools, where students are so glued to the idea of “cheating” that they can hardly bear to help each other. But when I hear about things like this happening in our computer class, I know that things are moving in the right direction.

Now it’s all about keeping the learning like this going, by bringing more computers and training down to new schools, and also by continuing to support the schools that we have previously worked with in order to ensure a strong program.

Just a few days left before a big decision that we’re excited to make. If you know of an organization that might be interested in some free laptops, give us a holler.