It’s been over a year since I first traveled to Haiti to visit artisans who create sustainable income through handcrafted works of art and I’m excited to return tomorrow and witness how economic development programs put in place after the 2010 earthquake continue to thrive while also lending a hand in teaching technology to Haitian businesswomen and artists.
Last January I embarked a great adventure, traveling to Haiti out of sheer curiosity with no other purpose than learning about a country that I might not visit otherwise. What I found was a country making progress towards recovery thanks to the spirits of individual Haitians dedicated to improving their lives and those of their family members. And I admit, I fell in love.
It’s hard to not love a place where there is true beauty beyond the rubble and a desire to learn unlike any I witnessed during my former career as a teacher. The Haitian artists we met with yearn to improve their lives through employment. They see learning as empowerment and their incredible entrepreneurial spirit deeply affected my soul with a single question, “How can we get a computer to do what you do?”
With this single question posed by Dam Dam, a lightbulb went off inside my head. Here was a group who wanted to read our blogs, comment on them in Creole, Tweet with us, and share their beautiful art and stories through their Facebook page. Clustered around the screen of a netbook, I knew that I could help by returning to provide technology and social media assistance.
Drawing on my background of designing and delivering professional technology development, managing federal education grants, teaching, and collaborating, we talked about how to reach out for funding in order to go back to provide much needed hardware and training. It was also time to turn the tables on the technology companies that I’ve gotten to know over the past five years by pitching them back with a request to get involved in our efforts.
With the help of friend, former teacher, and fellow blogger and #Bloggers4Haiti traveler, Elena Sonnino and I wrote a narrative to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund outlining a plan for how we would use funds to provide sustainable technology professional development to Haitians. While we waited to hear about funding, a chance meeting with Microsoft allowed to me share what we were working on and secure a commitment of laptops. And finally, when we were starting to lose hope, almost a year later we received word that the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund would partially fund our project.
It’s exciting to know that a tiny seed of an idea planted by Dam Dam has grown into a return trip to Haiti where I have the opportunity to continue working with The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Macy’s Heart of Haiti, and Everywhere to provide sustainable technology training. I am also incredibly appreciative of the generous donation by of Windows laptops, Office Home and Business 2010, and laptop sleeves from Microsoft.
After securing funds, technology, and software, my next task was to think about how to deliver the most effective training possible using the tools we have. Knowing the technology the artisans have, what they’re used to, and a baseline level of knowledge is important to consider along with the infrastructure related challenges of consistent access to electricity and limited access to the internet.
I’ve gotten to know Windows 8 and Office Home Premium through my partnerships with Microsoft but they aren’t practical choices for Haitians. I love the visual appearance of the tiles and charms of Windows 8 but the operating system isn’t one that the artists are familiar with so we determined it would be more effective for them to continue using a Windows 7. Similarly, Office 365 is powerful cloud-based collaboration tool however, the lack of wifi and internet access makes this an impractical choice in Haiti since Dam Dam told us that they have to walk to an internet cafe to go online. Thankfully the Microsoft Windows Champions (#WindowsChampions) and Microsoft Office 365 teams understood these constraints and were still willing to provide the necessary hardware and software to ensure that our training could move forward with the most beneficial technology for the artists.
So tomorrow is the day I leave for another Haitian adventure to feed my soul. I’m packing more technology than clothes with the plan to come home with an emptier suitcase but a fuller heart. I hope that the internet at our hotels is as awesome as it was last year and I’ll be able to post a recap at the end of each day so you can follow along with my travels and those of fellow #Bloggers4Haiti members.
Here is the list of attendees to follow over the next week as you follow our #Bloggers4Haiti hashtag:
- Kelly Tirman, KellyTirman.com @KellyTirman
- Leticia Barr, TechSavvyMama.com @TechSavvyMama
- Nadia Jones, JusticeJonesie.com @JusticeJonesie
- Danica Kombol of Everywhere @DanicaKombol
- Kelly Heisler of Everywhere @KellyHeislerATL
- Willa Shalit of Fair Winds Trading and Maiden Nation @WillaShalit
- Johnica Reed @Johnica
- Swoan Parker @SwoanParker
- Deana Jirak @DeanaJirak
- Lynn Douglass @LynnDouglass2
- Macy’s Heart of Haiti @HeartofHaiti
- Everywhere @beEverywhere
Haitian businesses we’ll be visiting and links so you can learn more about them:
- The Artisan Business Network (ABN), Facebook page
- Dam Dam paper mache artists on Facebook, Pinterest page
- OFEDA handmade greeting cards
- JP Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO)
- Einstein Workshop – wood work collection featured on Donna Karan’s Urban Zen, Facebook page
- Croix des Bouquets metal work featured on West Elm and Urban Zen
To learn more about last year’s trip, here are my past posts written about Haiti:
- Haiti: 2 Years After the Quake
- Sustainable Income Through Art
- Dam Dam Haiti- #Bloggers 4 Haiti Introduce Technology
- Hearts from Haiti
- Experience Haiti Through Our Eyes: #Bloggers4Haiti via Video
- Haiti on My Mind: Returning to Teach Technology to Women
- Returning to Haiti to Provide Sustainable Technology Training
- Remembering Haiti by Teaching Others
I received grant money from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) and a scholarship from Everywhere to help defray the cost of this trip however, all additional expenses are personally paid for. Everywhere also provided a scholarship for last year’s trip but again, all extra costs were paid for out of pocket. I have never been required to share any part of my travels to Haiti but the stories and images are so compelling that it’s hard not to. Amazon affiliate links included in this post.