Laptops and Hotspots

Patrice Richard from Paris knocked timidly on the front door of Ms. Ederne Edouard, a 31-year old woman, unemployed and illiterate and hoping for a brighter day.

The French man who went by Patrice was surprisingly nervous and shockingly lost for words.  In his hands he carried a picture of his adopted daughter, 15 years old, Sophia.  From his lips, he mouthed the words from Sophia to his birth mother, "I love you Mama. I hope to see you one day, very soon."

What particularly chocked me about this story was the fact that Ederne had never seen a picture of her daughter -- never held her hand since she was abandoned at age two.

Now, Sophia was living in Paris -- smart, athletic and witty.  She loved to study and had many friends. Like most girls, her age, she had a cell phone and a facebook page.

And like most people in Haiit (over 30% are illiterate), Ederne did not have access to a phone or the internet, didn't even know how to boot up a computer, how to type together complete sentences or even write them down for that matter.

To me Ederne's story is sad, uplifting and wholly emotional.  It is a testimony of love and a testament to the fact that Haitian's need laptops, internet, and a portal to the rest of the world.

My dream is to provide laptops and high speed internet access to everyone in Port-au-Prince.  Yes, this dream seems extreme in a land where the biggest need is a tent to cover their heads and flip flops to protect their feet.  But how are we going to get them these materials quickly, proficiently and completely if we don't know how to request them, ship them, deliver them so that passion and compassion can be displayed with the best of humanity.

Here's what I'm thinking: tap off the existing backbone by building dozens of antennas strategically located throughout the city and connected via line-of-sight. Lend the laptops to women as part of a microfinance program and provide WiFi access via individual passwords.

Once built, the system is permanent and self sustaining.  Besides providing security, we would have to provide technical assistance to use and maintain the laptops.  We will hire local Haitians and provide them an opportunity to be trained, intern and return their knowledge and skillsets to the local population.

Providing laptops with high speed internet access is not just for the Haitians. First and foremost, this capability should be provided to relief workers and non profit organizations who are providing their time and capital to save lives and make life better in this country.

Often times, these organizations are comprised of very large groups where nearly 100 people per organization may need simultaneous access to high-speed internet.  These relief workers depend on the power of internet communication to ensure that their equiptment and resources (tents, flip flops, medicine, clothing, Bibles, etc) as well as people get moved smartly, quickly, touching as many Haitians as we possibly can.

Once the backbone is built, there is no reason why the appendages cannot be extended to the Haitian people so that every individual can enjoy the power and speed of the internet.

Critics may say, that people are not familiar with the use.  My response is that we can teach them, create skilled labor through internships and thus create more jobs.

Some may add that this country has a 30% illiteracy rate.  If people can't read a book, how can they read what's on their computer screen  -- my answer: Perhaps the computer more than the book with actually be the vehicle that introduces them to the power of language.

I have additional ideas how we can provide a large amount of laptops to the Haitians that can not only be a Win-Win, but a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN for the folks at home involved in this large-scale endeavor.

I also have an idea how an application can be created in Creole that will be more icon intensive with fewer words and less complexity that I hope the Haitians will happily embrace.

I also don't want to bore you with these logistical and technical details.  If you would like to discuss with me the specificity of my plan, please drop me a line.

I hope that this vision will soon come to fruition and we can provide free high-speed internet access to every Haitian in Port-au-Prince.  Meanwhile, at home, I am hard pressed to find a WiFi signal even in the most busier parts of DC.  Yes, I know that this vision can be a hard endeavor, but if you don't try, we will never know life's true possibilities.

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