Yesterday was the first day I was capable of abstract thought in while, so it’s probably time to continue the blog.  Better ten days late than never.  The trip really does deserve a full write-up, which I had neither time or focus to do while it was happening.  So let’s return to Sunday, June 19th …

The day started very early for me, rushing to the bathroom numerous times, emptying pretty much everything in my system.  Diarrhea’s unpleasant enough in the States, but in Haiti it takes on a new dimension of worry and discomfort.  First thought is “Thank god for a nearby flush toilet.”  Next thought is cholera, which I’ve heard drains you of seven liters of water in a matter of hours, so I start playing head games with myself, guessing how much is how much.  The next game is “how did I get it?”, wondering where I let my guard down.  I counted four possible scenarios, two of which were later eliminated.  My best guess at this point is the buffet at the Hotel Montana.  Given that it was a buffet that got me last time, I’ve pretty much decided to swear off buffets in Haiti.  The last head game of course is “Will I be able to stand during the first days of training?”

So I decide to test the vertigo and get some coffee (I know, I know).  Walking to the lobby and dining porch seemed easy enough, so I refilled my water, got some coffee, and tried a couple of sips.  After a bit, it became clear that I might not make it back upstairs, so I left my coffee and scrambled to bed.  An hour or so later I’m downstairs looking for meds.

I walk up to an American woman working by herself on a laptop.  “Excuse me, by any chance do you have some Imodium?”  (meanwhile musing that in Haiti this is probably a standard greeting among visitors).  Well, I picked the right person to ask.  Stephanie is a nurse helping to treat cholera.  She quickly diagnoses me and runs upstairs to get Cipro (which I forgot), re-hydration salts (which I never had), and the phone number of a doctor she knows.  What a turn from bad to good luck!  (the first of many this trip).  Turns out she’s staying with the three college girls I’d met the day before, that offered to help with the laptops.

I head upstairs to tell Adam that he’ll have to lead the laptop prepping session, since I likely won’t be able to get out of bed.  I pour salts in my water, along with some powdered Gatorade to help with the taste, and start my first of five half-liters for the day.  Adam assembles the mentors and they start triaging laptops and reflashing.  (apologies for the next two blurry pictures, my auto-focus switch some how got turned off)

Out of 126 laptops, we had only 54 “bricks”, which was considerably better than last February when we had more than half.  The trainers started reflashing the good ones, while I played RAM on my Mac, then songs from Many Hands, telling them about my twilight night.  I prepared USB jump drives on the bed, still lying down, while listening to the trainers talk to each other in Creole, trying to catch bits and pieces of their jokes.

After a lunch break, we were joined by Rachel, Emily, and Ana, who first listened to my Waveplace rap, then some movies.  They seem very excited about Waveplace, though my little dog-and-pony show completely exhausted me, which didn’t bode well for the start of training.  Adam taught them and the trainers how to dissemble the laptops. We were all thankful for the big room and balcony.

While everyone disassembled, I worked on a quandary.  Apparently the newest version of Terminal didn’t work, something we’d discovered only after reflashing 72 laptops, all with that version.  If I couldn’t figure out a way to easily uninstall the bad version and reinstall the older working version, we’d have to reflash all 72 laptops again.  I tried finding a command-line way to uninstall activities (none).  I tried the simple Sugar way (no luck).  After about an hour of further half-hearted attempts, I came upon a very simple solution that required simply putting in a USB stick and starting the machine.  I’m glad I was able to solve the problem, though distressed by just how muddled my brain was.

Our group of eight was able to debrick all 54 laptops in about three hours, which was quite the improvement over just me and Beth last February.  Just as Adam was assembling the last laptop, power went out in the hotel.  I held my iPhone up to give him light to finish.  We all agreed that it was Providence that power lasted all day, allowing us to get as much done as we did.  In the end, we had only seven questionable laptops, which is a low 6%.

Later I chanced a plate of spaghetti after a day of not eating.  The re-hydration salts clearly had down their job, as I was feeling much better.  The spaghetti was easily the best I had ever had, not just for my hunger but also for the excellent seasonings.  After a nice long talk with Stephanie and the college girls, I went to bed feeling ready for our early day of training.  And the food stayed down.

Woke at the Oloffson, had coffee, and walked to our truck, only to find a flat tire.  Looks like I’m keeping up with my average of one flat tire per trip.  We found a Haitian to change the flat (glad we didn’t have to muss up our suits for this) and later fix the tire.  After a quick drive to the ICT event, we walked in just as Michel DeGraff was giving his talk.  It was good to hear about his further progress at the Maténwa Community School, a project which Waveplace started in 2010.

After some great presentations and a few one-on-one talks with Guy Serge Pompilus, Genevieve Douyon, and the presenter from Accenture, we headed back down the hill to meet our trainers at the Oloffson.  It was wonderful to see all of them again … (left to right) Zo, Michena, Elisabeth, and Evens.

After catching up with each other and waiting for Adam (“Ou est Adam?”), we got in the truck, but not before some impromptu shots of Zo and Michena.

I found my way to the AMURT headquarters where we were let into the room with 400 boxes from all over North America, sent by individual laptop donors.

We set up a dismantling line with me heading things off by taking photos of all of the return addresses, so we can later send thank you letters to the donors.  As I was doing this, I would yell out, “California”, “Rhode Island”, “Hawaii”.  Something about opening all these boxes and hearing where they are all from, especially with Haitians helping, feels really great.  It’s a way to remember each of the individual sacrifices that make our work possible.

After a few hours, we had opened 126 laptops and created a pretty large garbage pile for AMURT to clean up (apologies for the lack of focus).

We packed all the laptops into the backseat, with four people riding in the back of the truck, then drove home in the dark to Oloffson after a few missteps.  After our 126 laptops were safely in the Jonathan Demme room, we discussed expense reimbursements, which turned into a vigorous discussion, then ate dinner together.  The trainers were a bit shocked by the prices at the Oloffson, so that may be our last meal together. I gave them all $15 USD per day for food, allowing them to spend it as they like.  I expect they will all spend a fraction of it and keep the rest.

Later that night, I got my first suspicion for what was to define my next day. I’d clearly caught a bug.

I woke at the Engle’s house and talked with John and Merline, catching up with my two favorite people in Haiti. The previous night’s journey up the detour road had me worried that I’d be able to find my way on my own, so John asked one of his workers to escort me, giving directions. I was also worried about the 45 minutes it took, given what would likely be a tight drive to and from the workshop next week.

Driving down I took note of the turns … left, left, left, left, left … easy! Also for some reason it took me 25 minutes instead of 45. So the detour wasn’t an obstacle after all. I made it to the Montana just in time to see Benaja and my new friend Fequiere. Also in the picture is Dominique Hudicort, sister of Caroline, one of our partners.


The conference started with a talk by Creutzer Mathurin, from the Ministry of Education, whom I met with in February.  He spoke of the education situation in Haiti, citing some sobering statistics:

  • 4628 schools were destroyed in the earthquake
  • 69% of Haiti’s population is less than 20 years old
  • more than 500,000 children are not in school
  • more than 3 million people considered to be illiterate
  • 70% of teachers are underqualified (do not meet ministry’s norms)
  • 80% of secondary school teachers have already reached retirement age


We then heard from Jeffrey Sachs via Skype, who talked about his work in Africa.  There didn’t seem to be much substance to what he had actually accomplished.  He was the first of the day to say, “We’ll make educational content for Haiti.”   The next speaker was from MIT who talked about OpenCourseWare, again suggesting “We’ve solved the problem, just use our stuff.”  In the question and answer period, a Haitian gentleman stood up and suggested that Haitian materials need to created for Haitian needs.  This brought applause from the audience.  Later on, Mike Truncano from the World Bank said, “(Don’t) Assume you can just import content from somewhere else,” which again brought applause.

Surrounding the talks, I made many great connections with people, especially those in Martelly’s transistion team and others from the Ministry of Education.  Many said that they would attend our courseware workshop on Thursday morning.

Midway through the day, I got an email from Richard Morse that our rooms at the Oloffson were confirmed, which was a big relief.  We were hoping for more space to do laptop prep, and I knew that the trainers were looking forward to staying in a hotel, rather than tents at John’s house.  After the presentations, there was a reception and dinner.  At one point, I was sitting next to Microsoft and IDB to my right and UNESCO and World Bank to my left.  While there I wondered what everyone would think if I told them my own budget … how much I can get done for what must be a pittance compared to their budgets.

After dinner, I drove with Adam, who had shown up midway through the day, to the Oloffson, after a few missed turns along the way.  I simply loved being at the Oloffson again.  The art, the music, the architecture …  it’s a true gem, unmistakably unique.  We spoke with Richard Morse for a bit, then went to bed in what must be the nicest room in the hotel, the Jonathan Demme room, with a wonderful balcony.  I fell to sleep happy.


Each trip the routine gets more routine: fragrant air as I deplane, Haitian band playing in the hallway, bus to immigration, forms & passport, baggage and the customs guy that waves you through, mob of people outside, string of “super helpful” men who won’t hear no.

My first stop was Digicel to get minutes and check that my phone & number from February still works. I added $15 USD and got assurance from the man that I was good. Then began the search for my rental car, which was supposed to be waiting for me. Helpful men would not leave me alone. “You need a cab … ah, a rental … take a cab to the rental … a no, this is where he would meet you.” All along, I’m being friendly and insisting they were wrong. “Why are you walking this way, I told you that is where to wait.” I cannot get through to the rental company with my iPhone, my Haitian phone, or someone else’s phone. Simply doesn’t work. I’m stuck.

Along the way, I see an SUV with the Mercy Corps logo, so decide to meet my new friends. I explain my situation and ask to use their phone. This time it goes through and the Europcar woman tells me a man is holding a sign with my name. I backtrack, and sure enough, in the throng of people by the Digicel office, I see my name. After a short drive to Europcar and some hassles with credit cards, I’m driving again in Port-au-Prince.

The most remarkable thing about my drive up the mountain was how unremarkable it was. I somehow felt at home again in the chaotic jumble of Haitian traffic, playing chicken with huge trucks and bathtub size potholes, dodging motorcycles and pedestrians without worry. Up and up I went, using my intermittent iPhone data roaming to use Google Maps to find the Hotel Montana, where I parked, walked up to the restaurant level, and took in the view.

Looking down on Port-au-Prince from this wraparound view, as though I were looking at Los Angeles and not Cité Soleil and Delmas, I felt keenly the inequity of most NGOs (staying up here) and who they serve (the people unseen down below). Within minutes I met Truncano from the World Bank and another gentleman from Microsoft. “What do you do?” and so it starts. Within seconds of sitting down after a full day of travel, I’m in sales mode giving people the well-worn rap. I take a break to switch into my business suit and score a win by asking IDB to let me leave the courseware workshop invitations on the registration table for participants to take on their own. Then people start arriving.

I’ll talk about who I met and what was said in the next post. President Martelly didn’t make it for his keynote, which made a few people upset, but not me. It gave me more time to mingle, which is really why I was there. One delightful bonus was a few dozen children with XOs from the IDB/MOE pilot. After three years, I actually got to see some of the infamous 13,700 laptops with children using them. A few older boys were using Etoys in non-trivial ways, which was wonderful to see. Anyway, a great night.

I’m typing as I cross New Jersey, on my way to Newark Airport. The sun is just now rising, a clear orange ball above the hills and green. Paula and Isabel drove me to the station, with Isabel in her dragon costume, which she slept in. Earlier I responded to the 27 attendees for our upcoming Courseware Workshop in Pétionville on June 23rd. Quite a lot for two days. We’re hoping to double that number.

Yesterday was non-stop trip preparations. It started with me talking out my trip step-by-step with Paula, discussing each detail so I wouldn’t forget anything. So many little things get missed … screwdrivers, sunglasses, etc, etc. Our friend Robin stopped by to hear more of the drama. While telling her about the ICT event, I became convinced that I needed printed invitations to our Courseware Summit to hand out at the ICT event, though it wasn’t likely that the printing company could do them in time.

I called Bethany at AlphaGraphics. She said, “Sure, but only if you get me the files by 1pm.” That gave me an hour an a half. I begin designing the invitations, but remember that I need to get USB flash drives for the mentors. Overnight to Adam? But it’s an extra $4 a stick for that. I’m about to hit send and I think to check the local Best Buy. Sure enough, they have 30 USB sticks. Paula will pick them up on the way back from picking up Isabel at school. She’ll also pick up the printing & dry-cleaning.

Okay, back to the invitation … only 40 minutes left! Tweak, tweak, tweak. The girls come upstairs to look. “Can you translate this to French while I make the footer?” I add some last minute changes while Paula translates. I decide the invitation will be English on one side, French on the back. Yes, perhaps Kreyol would be better, but at this late hour, I’m not willing to trust Google Translate for that.

I send off the files at six past one, then make the latest training workshop schedule and send PDF invitations to many that I know. Then an hour on Skype with Mercy Corps and another half hour with PRODEV to discuss logistics. I have another look at my invitation and “Ee gads” a typo in Haiti Partners website address. Spend another $100? Sure. I call Bethany … “Can you do another?” She says yes.

Then the boxes arrive. The one with the power strips is very heavy. The girls start cutting open mini mice packages while I figure out how to pack it all. My dreams of a duffel bag and one carry-on go out the window pretty quickly. The lesson books were printed 8.5×11, which are considerably heavier than last time. With the power strips, they fit into their own 50 pound suitcase, which will be empty coming back.

I had planned to go to sleep at 8pm. With minutes to spare, I put my bags in the car. As I relax to eat a quick dinner, my exhaustion takes over and I’m asleep within 20 minutes. Quite a day.

(sent last night to the artists of Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti)


I’m sitting on a hammock listening to Many Hands, watching the twilight sky darken, about to make my fifth trip to Haiti, overwhelmed once again by the promise and challenge ahead of me as I head to the place of greatest need.

I work with teachers and children all over the country, bringing laptops and creativity and hope and freedom of a sort. This trip I’ll be reaching another hundred, most of them in Cité Soleil. I’ll also be glad-handing a bunch of so-serious types, all with power to help so many more, and most who miss the point … that we need to free hearts, free minds … that it’s about children being children, that they need a childhood, they need a friend.

Please pass the word to the artists that they’ve given strength to at least one steely-surfaced marshmellow man spending way too much time & money for the kids of Haiti, who listens to the songs along with his 5 year old daughter, over and over and over.

And that one beautiful twilight night in a moment of considerable doubt, Frances England made me cry the shaking kind of sob with the simplicity and truth of “What Friends Are For.” I wish I could airdrop your CD all across Haiti so the kids there could hear what the kids here are jamming out to in the backseat on the way to their happy, healthy home. Those kids and these kids . . . there aren’t words.

Anyway, thanks again.


Today after a wonderful long talk with Christoph Derndorfer about courseware & government goals, I received an email from a gentlemen we’ve spoken with at Haiti’s Ministry of Education, inviting us to an IDB-sponsored ICT event this week. After reading through the list of presenters, it became abundantly clear that I needed to attend this event, so in a mad scramble, I moved my trip up two days. Nevermind that *four* days of prep was impossible, now I’ve got *two*.

My first reaction, of course, was “how could I have not heard of this ICT event before today?” I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in Haiti about education technology for years, so finding out with three days notice was unsettling. I spoke to my contact at OLPC and he was likewise out of the loop and surprised. I spoke to two of our partners, who were likewise surprised. One said, “This is very typical of Haiti. Events with no advanced warning or publicity.” Another partner had actually heard about the event. I asked her how she found out. “My sister was one of the organizers. She emailed me today.” So at least I wasn’t the last to know 🙂

Now I’m trying to relax after a whirlwind day. My brain is racing with a new level of crazy details while I’m trying to chill out on a hammock in our yard, listening to the twilight songs of birds. My many goals for this trip are beyond possible, which means it’s probably time to simply drop all expectations and see what happens.

Just now an email with some very kind words: “By the way, your blog was truly inspiring and encouraging for many volunteers who are giving helping hands in Haiti!”

I question daily how much of myself to reveal in these posts. There’s the business-suit, firm-handshake, market-driven part of me that says “Play it cool. Reveal nothing.” Fortunately, there’s also the wrinkly-shirt, walk-into-walls guy whose chief aim is making children laugh so they see that learning should be fun.

Yes, there’s a time to inspire confidence. More often though, and better, to inspire freedom.

I’m overdue for another “why am I doing all this” post. Five days before a trip is just about the time when I start questioning my choices. I’m not sure what it says about me that I do this, but it happens every time.

You’d think with enough time and effort into something that the answers would be self-evident, but they’re not.

I’m not doing it for money, since I make quite a bit more doing software work. Every hour I spend on Waveplace is essentially a financial loss.

I’m long since past the “doing it for fun” stage, which was a real motivator in the beginning, but pretty much wore off in Lagonav, when the quest became merely a job.

I’m also not doing it for my reputation, unlike most that I know who are aligned with a school, corporation, or government. I have no “professional development” or “community outreach” sections to fill, no bosses who get impressed, no pats on the back from those that would further my career. When I do get complimented, I usually just say thanks and hope the other person joins the work.

So if it’s not money, fun, or reputation, why do I work so hard with Waveplace? Why do I sacrifice family time and software gigs to help people I barely know?

Well, I guess it’s because I believe in the work. Again and again, I see its benefits; I know how it helps kids and teachers. The work is the reward, for the most part.

But this in itself isn’t enough for four years of sacrifice. Feeling happy about helping people is all very fine when someone else is paying for it. To have money weighing you down while doing it requires more than kumbayas.

At core, I’m doing this because of a vision I’ve seen clearly, a long term goal I’ve been trudging towards. I’m motivated by my hope for a paradigm shift in education and the benefits to children and society that will inevitably result. I’m doing this to improve Isabel’s world.

Spent a surprising amount of time today organizing the many Waveplace computer files we’ve accumulated over the years. Between all the documents, spreadsheets, Etoys projects, visual designs, photos, videos, and Sugar backups, there’s a treasure trove of past activity, all spread out in different places: my laptop, our media drive, our wiki, our shared iDisk, our version-control repository. Add to that Beth’s laptop, which likely has a few dozen files I don’t know about, and we’ve got a serious information management mess.

Today’s focus was a courseware inventory in preparation for our courseware meet in Haiti during my trip. Quite a lot is done, but it’s all over the place, with inconsistent file & folder names, wildly different designs, and needless duplication. First, I need to collect & organize the important bits, then “put the shine” on everything so it looks part of a professional and consistent system. I simply can’t present what we’ve got now.

What a lot of work, and all without actually creating something new!

Waveplace basically does three things: train new mentors, support laptop projects, and create courseware. Nearly all of our time is spent on the first two, mostly because those are the easiest tasks to fundraise for. Courseware always seems to be an “also ran”, mostly due to lack of time & money.

The courseware we’ve created has either been self-funded or done by volunteers. The volunteer work tends to be infrequent and unfocused, without much connection to teaching in actual classrooms in the field. This was one of the central insights from our last St John workshop. The courseware we created while working with the kids was considerably better than courseware created back at home. There’s just no substitute for trying things out directly with the children who will be using it.

Given this, I’m thinking about a new policy: courseware only gets made & tested by certified mentors. Certified means: 1) taken a Waveplace workshop and 2) completed six weeks teaching in one of our laptop programs. While this might exclude a great number of talented educators from possibly volunteering to make courseware, the truth is that there’s just too much to expect an outsider to understand. Nearly all of it is pacing & guidance & setting expectations. The topics being taught and the nifty interactive ideas are minor in comparison. Unless you’ve been in it, often, you really can’t imagine this; you can’t anticipate.

Courseware made by volunteers is invariably made to be taught by that specific educator (or similar people) in settings they’re familiar with. It’s rarely made to be used by Very Different Teachers in Very Different Settings, usually with people using computers for the first time. This is an essential problem with the Etoys and Sugar communities: they’re mostly made of innovators who create material for other innovators.