The day after meeting with the teachers, we met with parents of the EFACAP students. As we had done the day before, we started this meeting by explaining who we were, why we were there, that we were not working with the laptop program, and that the Ministry of Education had asked us to come and help them find a solar solution to charge the laptops that had been donated to them.
The parents were full of speeches to express their gratitude. One parent after another took their turn expressing sentiment after sentiment: how words alone couldn’t express their gratitude that their child is able to participate in this program, to have a computer that they’d otherwise never be able to have, that their children can do things that they’d never be able to do in life… This was very touching, but it also felt that perhaps they still didn’t understand that we had nothing to do with the laptop program.
So we asked the parents what the children use the laptops for. The two main responses were pictures and movies.
Then one parent finally stood up and said that she was NOT happy, because her child was older than 6th grade and thus did not have a laptop (7th through 9th graders at this school did not receive laptops).
We asked about what the laptops are used for when the children bring them home. The parents themselves told us they don’t use them—with one exception. There was one parent who had used the laptop extensively, and had even brought it to an Internet cafe and used it to access the Internet. She was certainly the exception.
They next told us that their children weren’t really showing them (the parents) new things, or the things that they were learning in school, on the laptops. However, they were showing these things to other children. This had caused some of the children that were very shy to come out of their shells and interact much better with other children. The children learn and work together when they’re working on the laptops. This, I’ve heard before—children teaching other children, spontaneous play/teaching/learning groups forming, and children using the laptops to express themselves in ways never before available to them, or seen by their parents.
Then, there was an angry mother who stood up and made a speech about how some things must not be allowed on the laptops. She had found pornography on her child’s laptop (I’ve never heard of THAT before!), and this sparked heated response speeches by numerous other parents: the first was a father who stood up to say that he is aware of everything that is on his children’s computer, and he is also very involved in his children’s lives, so that something like this would never happen in his household, and that it is more of a reflection on the parent that there was pornography on the laptop than on the child. Then another student stood up to say that they shouldn’t be talking about this in front of their visitors/guests, because we’d get the wrong impression about their town/school/community. They should instead go back to telling us about all the wonderful and fantastic things about the laptops, so that we don’t cancel the program and might bring them more laptops. So, that was a very interesting and eye-opening experience, because it felt like we got to see some actual truthfulness before the “make the right impression” urge got the upper hand again.
At that point, since it explicitly stated that we were guests, that they should tell us only positive things about the laptops, we took that opportunity to explain yet again that we had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual laptop program. We were from a University in the US, and had brought the solar powering equipment and had installed it, but were returning to bring Internet connectivity, and were taking this opportunity to talk with them, get to know what they thought about the technology-in-the-school, explain about the solar system we had installed, etc.
So we got back to talking about the laptops (since there wasn’t much else to ask about the solar system itself—none of them had seen it before). They said that the children were more interested in going to school than they had been before. In fact, some parents said that their children didn’t even want to go to sleep, they just want to keep using the laptops. This raised the issue of power—how would their children be able to keep using the laptop past bedtime, if charging them is so difficult? So we turned our questions to energy and power, and asked about charging the computers.
The parents told us that charging the computers has been the biggest challenge. Sometimes they pay for charging them at charging stations. (They told us that the going rate was 25 or 30 gourds per charge, which translates to about 75 cents US. For perspective, UNESCO estimates that 55% of Haiti’s population lives on less than $1.25/day.)
Other times they go to neighbors’ homes that have electricity (neighbors with generators?) When the grid comes on, they try to find everything they can, including the laptops, and charge everything they can as long as the power is on. In the five days we were there on this trip, the power came on twice, both times in the evening/middle of the night.
They parents also told us no one in town has solar panels for solar charging of the laptops.
When asked what they would like to change about the program, the answer was: nothing, they would just like MORE laptops!
Mr. Compere, the principal, added that the next important thing to do will be to store digital books on the laptops.
We next asked a few technology-related questions. Nearly every parent in the room (about 20) had heard of the Internet, but only three of them had used it before. About half of them owned mobile phones. However, every one of them raised their hand that they would have access to a mobile phone in case of an emergency.
We asked them if they’d like to become more involved in the work we’re doing, and they gave a resounding YES from everyone. So we showed them the charging station, how it was constructed, and let them know that they could help the project by helping us construct more of these charging stations. Nearly all of the above pictures are of the students explaining to the parents about the charging stations (since that was when I got to go around the room and take photos!)
We then gave them a tour of the solar installation then, and asked who was willing to help with construction of the charging stations. No one was available that same day. They suggested they’d come back tomorrow. We asked when. Then they said they’d all be busy tomorrow, but some might come back at noon.
In the end, we did have one parent return to help with building the charging stations.