I recently returned from a trip to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti where I was working with a group called Project Hope Art. They have been traveling to Haiti for 4 years, since after the earthquake devastated the region in 2010. The group runs several classes that brings together children from all over Port-Au-Prince, including from Cite Soleil, CHOAIDS and OJFA (orphanages in the city). To run a class, several components must come together, and each has its unique difficulties making the job both entirely rewarding and challenging at the same time.
Coordination of the teachers, students, and hosting site is achieved mostly through telephone calls and with some e-mails. Most people have access to cellular telephones and can recharge their minutes by buying minutes through digicel street vendors (or similar sites). If you don’t have a phone, you can ask someone to use theirs. Most individuals don’t have Internet capabilities at home, school, or the orphanage where they live or they do not have access to a smart phone, laptop, or tablet, so e-mail exchanges have to be treated as if they might not be readily received and checked. Phones are definitely the way to go.
However, when the elements necessary to connect through digital media do come together, including electricity, hardware, software, and wifi, then the students find it to be a tremendous opportunity for expression, connection, and a display of one’s knowledge. One student asked me to help him make him an online presence, as he was a rapper who wanted exposure. I had an idea for the easiest implementation of his page, by setting up a Facebook page for him to use. The hard part was starting from scratch.
Luckily he had a phone. We started off with setting up a gmail account so he would have a e-mail address. I had to explain through our interpreter Jure what a password was and why it had to be over 8 characters and contain letter and numbers. We then set up a Facebook profile, taking a photo with the webcam on the laptop that had been donated to Project Hope Art. We then set up a page for his rapper persona.
I had him connect with other students who already had accounts. And that is all we had time for.
It was a great exercise for me because so many things that I had taken for granted came to light. Several websites that I use everyday don’t work in Haiti, like Pandora or Netflix or Hulu. Youtube works, but the connection is slow so it takes a while to load a page. The language settings on the iPhones we brought down do not include Haitian Kreyol, and do not allow you to set the location for Haiti, so you have to use some workarounds. In the quest for cutting edge technologies, the developing world has been left behind.
To be honest, I don’t know if JLE will be able to update his page with new content or do any of the things that will grow his career. JLE will have many obstacles to overcome, including finding ways to video himself, upload it with low bandwidth connections, obtain access to editing software and tools, and finding fans to like his page. But, even being down in Haiti for only two weeks, I’ve seen people working tremendously hard to make a difference in their communities, including my new friend Luc Rajepre who runs a school in Cite Soleil, and I’ve heard so many stories of Haitians working together to not only start schools, help orphans, and provide safe places for children to grow and learn, but to also bring the standards of living up by helping people to once again be proud of their community.
It’s not impossible, but the changes are incremental and they can only be achieved by the hard work of those within the country to change a global system that in many ways has ignored their struggle.*
For more pictures, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/willworkforcheese/sets/72157649172517437/
* For those interested in why Haiti is in it’s current state, please read about the French, slavery, large scale logging and the selling of their natural resources to “repay” the French, and the large-scale corruption before making assumptions.