Last week, we had our last parents’ meeting. At every school where we’re working, I asked the directors to organize a meeting with the parents so I could present the project, hand out consent forms, and take questions. In the last two meetings, the questions had been pretty basic. I tried to make it clear to everyone that just because you turn in the form doesn’t mean your child will be selected. If you have two children in the same school or the same grade, one might be selected and the other might not be. Not everyone is going to be using a laptop – half of the kids will be using paper books. Once those things were cleared up, people tended to be satisfied.
Not so with this meeting, at the Catholic school. There were a lot of questions about the project itself. Most of them came from men. The first guy wanted to know what the long-term plan was. I explained that everything depends on what results we get. Someone else wanted to know more details about me and my organization. I wrote my contact information on the board, and I talked for a bit about how we’re very aware that many foreign NGOs come in, make a donation, leave, and never come back. After all, we’re working with laptops that were basically abandoned by One Laptop Per Child. I explained that our goal is to enable schools to take advantage of these resources. We’ll provide power, connectivity, and training, and we’ll work to integrate the laptops into classrooms instead of sponsoring an after-school activity.
I explained that the school itself had to take ownership in order for this to become sustainable. We’ll provide them with the things they need, but in the end it’s up to them to decide to use them. We’re not going to pay people for years on end to use these laptops. The summer program is funded, but after that if the laptops become a normal part of the school day then the teachers will receive the same amount of money for using them that they’d normally receive for teaching. Our organization can’t provide scholarships, salaries, or stipends. The school has to decide that laptops are worth it. In terms of expanding, if we get good results, we can reach out to public and private networks for the support to get larger. The next step, after this summer, is to adapt the program for the school-day situation and schedule. That will happen in December. After that, it’s really up to the schools. This is a year-long effort, and then we’ll see. No one can predict the future.
One mother asked whether we would take photos of the kids and share them with our government, because I’d mentioned that the U.S. government is providing part of our funding. I didn’t understand her concern at first. It turned out she was worried that if the government knew the kids were getting help in our program, they wouldn’t allow them to participate in other programs. I reiterated that all the information would be private.
Then, another man had a complaint about the fact that we were only choosing 30 students per grade. There’s 50+ students per grade. He saw it as unjust. I explained that we’d like to take everybody, but we don’t have the resources, both in terms of teachers and money to pay the teachers. Everyone will get the chance to use the laptops and follow our adapted curriculum in January. For three months (September, October, November) some kids will be behind the others in the class because they didn’t participate in the summer activity. We’ll instruct the teachers to pay special attention to them, and they’ll probably benefit from being surrounded by other students who worked over the summer. I said we didn’t want to make the teachers work with more than 15 students at once, because this is partially a training activity, and we want them to have conditions where they’ll be successful.
The guy wasn’t satisfied with that answer. He said that’s not how you do things here in Haiti. Someone suggested that we get one of the sisters to come up and talk about whether or not they approved of this program. Sister Micheline said that she’d talked to me last summer and again in December about the possibility of starting to use the laptops again, and they sent one of their teachers to our workshop in December. She said that if some of the parents didn’t want to participate because they had doubts, they weren’t going to force anyone.
After that, we handed out the forms and left. Aidan and Zhane both had a lot of questions for me about what had gone on – I hadn’t been translating, because I’d been too busy responding. I told them it’s a good thing parents asked so many probing questions. I’d rather have that than blind acceptance of what I’m doing, and their concerns were completely legitimate. It’s hard to be doing something that’s framed as research. At the end of the day, you’re not helping everyone, or at least you’re not helping everyone equally. The idea is that in the long term the information you find out will be helpful to everybody. But how do you explain that to the kids and their parents?