Today began at 3:50 am EST in Miami with a malaria pill. Upon arriving at the airport, it finally hit me – this is the day that my Curriculum Design team has been planning for since the inception of our project at the beginning of September. I heard Haitian Creole for the first time in the line for the security checkpoint, and instantly realized that it was a lot less like French than people had made it out to be. The short flight to Port-au-Prince concluded with a beautiful aerial view of the country, which can only be described as a tropical Caribbean paradise.
By 8:45 am, I was standing with Marie at the window of perhaps the nicest customs officer I have ever met. Marie is a member of our group who has recently graduated from the Monterey Institute with an MATESOL. She considers this project a wonderful EFL opportunity both because of it’s location in a third world country, and the potential that it carries for both our school and St. Andre’s.
We meet Sora in front of the Natcom store. I had the pleasure of connecting with Sora at the OLPC conference in San Francisco in October. Sora is currently finishing her last semester of high school and works for Unleash Kids (an “unsung hero of the OLPC movement”) as an extracurricular activity. She has been to Haiti several times, and her apt use of Creole testifies to her love of the country, and serves as a valuable tool for places such as the Natcom store and the pool of potential cab drivers outside of the airport.
Gregory joins us soon after Sora. He is about to begin his second semester in the MATESOL program at the Monterey Institute, and will be continuing this project in his Curriculum Design class in the Spring of 2014. He and I speak French, which we hope will be an asset on the ground.
Together, we seek to purchase internet access at the Natcom store. Natcom is the most reliable internet service provider in Haiti. They sell Sim cards and USB modems that allow internet access in unreliable internet locations (like Hinche). We purchased three, in order to post to this blog as much as possible during our time here J
The next mission was to find our way to the guesthouse. We scheduled a driver to meet us at the airport at 9:30, but for whatever reason, he didn’t arrive until 11:20. During this time, we found a new driver. On the bright side, Sora got the cab driver to take us to the same place at the same price as the original driver. Unfortunately, this new driver didn’t know the location of the guest house. After an hour of searching the streets of Port-au-Prince, several expensive minutes of international phone calls, and an exasperated new cab driver, we were discovered at the Sol gas station on Route National #1 by our original driver. Within five minutes, we were comfortably seated in a living room with fruit salad and orange juice. Our hosts are delightful, and we encourage you to consider their guesthouse on your next trip to Port-au-Prince.
I have to admit that once I got to the room, I passed out on my bed for about 30 solid minutes. I may or may not have snored, according to Sora and Marie. We were scheduled to go to an orphanage at 3 pm to meet one of Sora’s contacts from her previous trips. His name is Pastor Silar, and he and his wife began the ORORAEDH (Orphanage of the Organization for Aid to Children in Difficulty in Haiti) in 2008 (both an orphanage and a school). Here is the link to her blog post http://blog.unleashkids.org/2013/08/04/silars-orphanage/
This project started with about a dozen children to care for. Today, Pastor Silar and his wife, Jeana care for 67 children from ages 1-19, and 250 who attend the school in grades 1-12. We had the opportunity to be shown around the building, and Pastor Silar explained to us some of the challenges that he is facing. The main reason for the increase of children is due to parent fatalities during the earthquake in 2010. These children were left on the streets, many of them sexually abused or trafficked in order earn money to eat. In the orphanage, the girls and the boys sleep in separate rooms, though Silar says that there are many problems with both genders living in the same house. He described that he and Jeana sleep the most during the day, because at night, at least one of them is awake at all times in order to ensure the gender separation. We were all amazed at the sacrificial compassion that Silar and Jeana show to these children, no matter what age or hour of the day.
The main house cost $50,000 in 2008. They have about 20 XO laptops, which are kept in great condition by the whole community. These laptops connect to another XO, which acts as the main server. The server is connected to a Natcom USB modem, and also internet in a box (a small device that allows off-line access to over 100,000 Wikipedia pages, presented as a web page). When there is electricity, the laptops are charged for use both in and out of the classroom. They are maintained by Jeanide and Junior, the “professors d’informatiques.” Jeanide began working with Unleash Kids in September, and Junior has been working with the XO laptops for about 3 years. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet Junior today, although Sora will likely meet with him at another point during her visit. This was a helpful component of our visit to this location because it is a model of what we hope to set up in Hinche.
Jeanide organized a memorable student performance for us, which involved all of the present students performing sketches, music, dance, riddles, and jokes. All of these elements involved portions of the XO curriculum that Jeanide has been following. The students were well-behaved and enthusiastic, and above all, visibly joyful.
Pastor Silar shared his dreams with us during the performance. He hopes to purchase the property next door from him for $51,000, though he worries because he lost his job after the earthquake. He hopes that he can take in more children, though there is not currently enough room to hold any more. He would also like to acquire 20 more laptops so computer instruction can be provided to more students. Sora will be helping him to make a website in order to promote his charity. She has made the point that some organizations are all about promotion and don’t actually help kids, while others (like Silar’s) are helping kids, but aren’t promoted. With her help, it may be possible to make donations to Silar’s orphanage. We will keep you posted as further information becomes available.
The day ended with an enormous dance party that included everyone present at the orphanage. Two big speakers blasted three different pop-music praise songs on repeat. Everyone from adults to babies joined in to form an enormous conga line that soon turned into a giant running circle. All at once, it was dusk, and we found ourselves in the back of a pick-up truck on the way back to the guesthouse, wondering how we were ever able to part with those kids.
Our dinner was rice and beans, lamb, plantains, and salad. As the four of us sat, we discussed the day, and found it hard to separate ourselves from the people we have had the pleasure of meeting. Even though we are here to implement a new curriculum, today revealed the true heartbeat of our trip: We must learn and connect with those around us in order to gain perspective, and in turn, help them learn about their world. It’s not about laptops – it’s about people.