Experiences, Projects

Tales From Haiti: Who to work with

As a minor with no real connection to any organization working abroad, one of the most difficult parts of my journey has been trying to find places who will let me work with them. In my search for somewhere that would accept a teenager starting a laptop project, I emailed dozens of schools and groups. I got a lot of negative responses – many were rightly cautious about me being too young or about the project being too disruptive to their classes.

Finally, I ended up at Sadhana Forest. It’s an organization that started in India around 10 years ago and just set up a reforestation project here in Ansapit. They’re a very open and alternative-ish community, so neither my age or my methods are an issue. Also, they’re charging me just $4 a day, and I like the location: Ansapit is a larger village (12,500 people) right on the border with the Dominican.

All good reasons for being here, although I worried a little about how I’d fit in with these self-described “practical hippies.” There’s a lot to get used to, from vegan meals and using toilets Indian-style (no toilet paper) to answering questions like “What’s the most beautiful thing in the world to you, right now?” [Ed: Give me strength] first thing in the morning.

It’s actually been great – I used to be a lot more “hippie” and spiritual a few years ago, and now I’m getting exposed to those old grooves again and remembering how helpful it is to take care of myself. At first the four hours of planting and other work every day were a little frustrating – the last summer I rushed all day long from class to class and I missed that rhythm of all education, all the time.

Now I’m learning to be grateful for the chance to stop and think.

One of the things I had to stop and think about was where the best home for the project would be. I’d come down expecting to hold classes at Sadhana, but then I got another offer from Babou. Babou is a local guy who’s very involved – he’s secretary of GPLA (a local community group), a teacher at an orphanage and a coordinator for Sadhana. My second night here he took me to the beach and we had one of those long late-night talks where you mull over a bunch of things that might not ever see the light of day.

One concrete thing that did come out of that conversation, though, was a new location for Project Rive. We’re now holding classes over at GPLA’s office. It’s a great opportunity, because the original vision for this was and still is a community center run by locals.

Sadhana has a great atmosphere, but most of the people there are from somewhere else.

Now we’re meeting in a place that’s really the center of the community, which is better than what I was expecting. The only problem is I wasn’t expecting it – I had to adjust to whole new set of parameters very fast.

First of all, I still don’t know quite what to think of GPLA. They have a large membership, which is encouraging. It’s just that the first two meetings I attended were just the director talking about how he needs money for his plans and how hard he’s working. But maybe I shouldn’t be judging – this might just be the way things are done in Haiti, as some have told me. And if the director is asking me for a camera and a WiFi connection, I should look at it as a substitute for the rent I don’t have to pay for the space.

Still, when Babou said something along the lines of “GPLA is partially responsible for this project and can fire any teachers who aren’t doing their job” I put my foot down and explained that, no, Unleash Kids (the organization I work with, who gave me laptops, solar panels, and training) has got the hiring and firing covered.

I could tell that Babou wants to have more control of the project – he actually said at one point that we should charge the computers using the bigger and better solar panels at his house. It’s great to have his backing, and this project will ultimately rest on the shoulders of one or two people, but I guess I’d rather have one or two people strongly invested in the project, rather than the project being strongly invested in one or two people.

I don’t know if that makes sense…


Vent Below

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