Letters from Haiti: Day Two
#1 Thing to Learn from This Post:
Haiti has an amazing amount of potential and innovative people are here committed to help unleash it.
Special Thank You:
I want to thank everyone who has donated to support our trip. To date, 13 people have joined me in giving $50 or more. Want to join us with your investment? Learn more and donate here.
A More Detailed Exploration:
The more time I spend in Haiti, the more I appreciate the nuances of the challenges and opportunities here. Last year’s trip was my first time outside the bubble of the developed world and it opened my eyes to the realities of life without its amenities.
Yesterday morning started with the braying of a donkey a bit further down the mountainside. Perhaps by coincidence or design, Luke Renner from Fireside International arrived from the airport and added his humor and creativity to the group immediately. With coffee, an egg scramble, and fresh fruit in our bellies, our team piled in the truck for the bone jarring ride down the mountain side road on our way into the heart of Port au Prince for the day.
Our first stop was at the Ecole Superieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti (ESIH), a burgeoning higher education institution with an impressive story. Patrick Attie, co-founder and vice president, spent with our team sharing his story and the success they’re building. Born in Africa to parents of Lebanese-Haitian and French heritage, Patrick began spending his summers in Haiti at the age of 17 after his folks had moved there from France. In time, he did as well.
Started shortly after the embargo of the 1990s, ESIH has grown in its 15 years to have 900-1000 students, most studying computer science and management. The campus, located in a middle-class area of the downtown, is compact and continuing to grow. The earthquake damaged the original building, causing the deaths of 11 students and a professor.
According to Patrick, the earthquake has been a partner amplifier for them. As companies and organizations come into the country to help with the recovery and rebuilding, they found an able partner in ESIH. Microsoft, Google, Net Hope and more work with them to provide opportunities for the students home and abroad.
Higher education represents one of Haiti’s greatest economic opportunities. Over $80-100 million flows out of Haiti for just the students attending university and technical training schools in Dominican Republic. Just imagine how much money could be invested back into Haiti if those students remained here for school.
Even as it is, ESIH has room to grow, because the Port au Prince area has three times the amount of need for its students than it currently graduates. Employment opportunities abound for these young men and women, 60-70% of whom come from Port au Prince middle-class families. One challenge ESIH faces is that most students who do matriculate into the program need a year of remedial coursework to make up for shortcomings of the primary and secondary schools.
After a short while, three new people joined our conversation. Jaako Helleranta, a Finnish ex-pat formerly with the World Bank, highly active with OpenStreetMaps, and now leading a startup in Haiti focused on GPS tracking devices, Adam Holt from One Laptop One Child, and Nick Doiron, One Laptop One Child volunteer leaving soon to join Code for America. These three men and Patrick are organizing an Open Space event on December 12 with the goal of generating a list of “things worth doing”.
As Jaako explained, open source is a new paradigm in the international development community that requires new policies and a mindset. With that in mind, our group brainstormed meeting best practices for integrating social media into the event to help them reach a wider audience and inform those who join the event. You can follow along from wherever you are on December 12 by tracking #OpenHaiti and @OpenHaiti on Twitter.
Ready for lunch, we made our way to the Hotel Oloffson to dine on the veranda while talking with Richard A. Morse, proprietor and leader the band RAM. As a close cousin to President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and a man know for his critical voice of prior administrations, we had a mostly off the record conversation about political realties of serving as an advisor to the president. Enjoying the conversation and lunch served, we strolled the hotel grounds admiring the voodoo art, chasing the roosters and chickens, and envying the pool on a 93 degree day.
On our way home up the mountainside back to Bellevue, we stopped in the better-off Petionville neighborhood for some grocery shopping at Giant Market, which caters to internationals and upper class Haitians. It could have easily been a grocery store in the US with a wide selection of goods, local and imported.
Back at Bellevue, we enjoyed a delicious dinner and spent the better part of the evening working on the script for the video we’re shooting over the weekend. After 3 1/2 hours of writing and rewriting (3 hours of which were just sheer comedic lunacy), we called it a wrap and headed to bed.
On our third day, we’re getting up quite early to make the journey to the countryside west of Port au Prince to visit one of the seven schools built and managed by Haiti Partners, which are participating in the social business initiatives. You can bet on reading about it all in the next post.