I talked a little bit about the work in Lascahobas while we were doing it, but now that it’s done it’s worth taking a look back at just how much went in to the site.
First, a lot of preparation is needed to get materials ready before they’re sent down to Haiti, so that installation is as simple as possible upon arrival. Some physics students at Randolph-Macon took on the task of building and testing out the rollable solar set-up. Meanwhile, our schoolserver team figured out how to run the network directly off the batteries being charged by two other panels.
Our first full day in Hinche was then dedicated to getting that solar system in place – we knew we couldn’t do anything without a source of electricity. Shuyan worked on the portable, rollable system, and a team of professionals from DigitalKap came in to install the other two panels securely and permanently.
It ended up being a really long day. The DigitalKap guys promised a secure install, and of course “security” means different things to different people. Bernadette, the school director, wanted them to cover the panels with metal flaps. Ultimately, they came up with a solution that satisfied everyone, welding on a brace to make everything more secure. Of course, that meant taking down the panels, going into town, and finding a welder. So, the job wasn’t finished until really late that night, around 9 or 10: they had to run a light-bulb off a generator in order to be able to see to set up the final pieces. The important thing, though, is that Bernadette feels the panels are protected. It’s her school, and our goal is to minimize the worries we cause her as much as we can.
Other security measures had to be taken as well. Since the rollable solar panel has to be put out and taken down every day, Bernadette recommended hiring a guy to build a tower and install a door to give easy access.
In the computer room itself, another guy put in a shelf for the network equipment and charge controller.
On Day 2, we leaped into our job of fixing laptops. The grand total, I’m proud to announce, was 126. That means they had their data collected, were unlocked, had their date updated, had their firmware upgraded, and had HaitiOS installed. 55 more laptops are in various stages of disrepair – hopefully some can be salvaged at a later date, or at least used for spare parts.
One big obstacle was electricity: the city power comes on at night, but other times there’s no real guarantee you’ll have it. In order to work on the laptops, we needed to be able to turn them on, so we had to get creative. For tasks like collecting data, unlocking, and changing the date, we switched out dead batteries for some that we’d charged ahead of time, doing the job, and then taking those good batteries back out to use in the next set of machines. Basically, we had a bunch of batteries and laptops going back and forth, working in pairs to get those stacks of unfinished machines lower and lower. For tasks that take longer or require a power source, like upgrading firmware and installing HaitiOS, we carried the laptops back to the rectory where we were sleeping and stayed up until 11 or midnight finishing the process.
On top of all that, we also wanted to make sure the local teachers understood how to use all the fun toys we were working so hard to bring them. Every morning started out with a training session in the XO laptops. We also went over the solar system and the Internet set-up, and we invited kids to attend on the last few days for some trial classes.
As you can probably gather by now, none of this could have happened without a fantastic team and a lot of careful planning. Plus, support from Ben Burrell’s church back at home in Virginia, which was really needed to make everything possible.
In addition to the work at Bernadette’s AFAL school, we also visited another school in the area that received laptops and fixed a total of 65 machines there. Unfortunately, this school isn’t as lucky as Bernadette’s – they don’t have a relationship with a church back in the States that provides funding to make things happen. Working with Bernadette’s school and Ben’s church has made me realize just how essential it is to have a source of funding: so teachers can get paid for the extra work they’re doing in the computer classes, so electricity can flow, so an Internet connection can happen.
So grateful for what we’ve been able to accomplish in Lascahobas thanks to everyone’s efforts. We’ll keep moving forward as much as we can with every one of our locations, but I know this school will go farther than many others thanks to all it’s able to receive.