Dear friends and supporters of Solar Transformation for Haitian Education,
I am writing, first and foremost, to thank you for your support of our team's project. Your financial (and moral!) support made possible what we consider to be a very successful project, which we are now considering to be completed.
With this support of yours, we were able to install a 2.4 KiloWatt DC-only solar system, a solar-powered wireless Internet and WiFi connection, and set up a brick-and-mortar library at the EFACAP school in Lascahobas, Haiti. For reasons beyond our control, the Ministry of Education in Haiti has decided to discontinue the One Laptop per Child project, and we no longer have a partner in the MoE, which puts the scaling of our project on hiatus.
However, the good news is that the solar system at the EFACAP school remains operable and is still charging the laptops. Furthermore, with minimal modifications, the school could utilize the system to charge just about any DC-based technology--I was charging my own netbook on the system while were there, so our technology-neutral DC-only approach should continue to serve the school in the future. In addition, the school has a two-year Internet subscription, complete with a service contract for that duration. From continued communications with the school director, I know that both the solar system and the Internet are still functioning properly, and we look forward to that continuing to be the case.
We are also happy to report that our work in Haiti led to our team's development of a Solar-Computer-Lab-in-a-Box, intended for use in just about any off-grid school location.
We will continue to search for ways to scale this project. Until that becomes a reality, we wish to thank you for your support, which made the work at the EFACAP school possible.
With very best regards,
Most of you are probably aware of our team’s work to provide solar power and Internet connectivity to the EFACAP School in Lascahobas, but many of you may not know about the library that we set up there in August of last year. I’d like to take this opportunity to write about it, because it figures in to our plans for moving forward.
Before our deployment trip in August last year, we had partnered with a 3rd grade teacher, Fabrice Urrizalqui, at the French-American International School (FAIS) in San Francisco. Fabrice led a book drive at FAIS, and we brought three suitcases full of these books with us to Haiti. When we arrived at the school, we found an empty room with beautiful wooden shelving, just waiting for books. We also discovered dust-covered boxes and boxes of books donated from the EU that had never been unpacked.
Our team set about unpacking the books, while Fabrice led the week-long effort to organize, sort, and catalog the books, which were in French and Creole. He also led a meeting with teachers and the school’s administration to explain the cataloging system so that they’d be able to more effectively utilize it. The school’s administration was extremely grateful for our team’s efforts, and we all believed that the “old” technology of actual books provided the perfect complement to the “new” technology of solar power to be able to charge the laptops that the school had received.
However, after two subsequent visits, the library still had not opened. This remained a frustrating puzzle for our team until the headmaster, Mr. Saintil, explained that the library would not open until there was a librarian, and the hopes for getting a librarian remained slim-to-none, given the Ministry of Education’s lack of financial support for this. (The existence of a library in a public primary school in Haiti is nothing if not a rarity!)
This is where our plan for moving forward comes in: we hope to not only modernize the EFACAP’s library with digital technology (powered by the solar system already in place) but also to apply for funding to hire a librarian for the school. Please stay tuned for our next report for further details!
In February 2012, three members of the IIT Empowering Haiti team made a brief trip to Haiti and to the EFACAP school. The purpose of our trip was threefold: to install some additional (important!) equipment that had not arrived in time for our December trip, to re-wire the system from the fuse-box to the tables, and finally, to check in and see how things are going at the EFACAP school! I’m happy to report that the solar powering system and Internet connection were working just fine at the time of our visit.
The “Mate3 Hub” that we installed will enable us to monitor the solar system remotely—over the Internet. It will show us how much power the system is receiving and discharging every day. Kevin McElhinney, a grad student at CU Boulder who has traveled with our team twice now, is taking the lead on that project, and is already receiving data from the solar system in Lascahobas. We also installed a new-and-improved connector/fuse box that allows each table/charging station to have a separate wiring connection and fuse. Yours truly was very surprised to discover my abilities to assist in re-wiring the system and we actually got it right on the first try! With the help of our rainbow of electrical tape, we color-coded all the wires and connections this time, too.
We also had the opportunity for a long conversation with Mr. Saintil, the EFACAP school’s headmaster. We inquired how the teachers were coming along in their use of the laptops and Internet in the classrooms, as we were very aware that the one-day training session we held in December on these topics was far from sufficient. We were very happy to learn that there are two teachers at the school who have an affinity for computers and using the Internet—which we had noted during the training session—who are taking the initiative and time to train the other teachers individually on how to use the Internet in their teaching. We are so are glad to hear of this ongoing training taking place! There was also a group of men assembled outside Mr. Saintil’s office, and he explained that they were there to work on the water system for the school—that very day! The school was going to host visitors coming to town for the Carnival, staying in the EFACAP dorms, and they knew the water/pumping system needed to be fixed once and for all—great news!
Finally, the contract for a two-year Internet subscription with Voila telecom was officially signed. The service had actually started in December, but we had the opportunity for the official signing ceremony in February.
Thank you for your continued support of our work!
On December 18th, a team of five IIT students, one student from UIC, one student from UC-Boulder, and two awesome mentors returned to the United States after a successful return trip to Haiti.
For the first part of the trip, the team worked on improving the current solar solution at the EFACAP school in Lascahobas, Haiti. The students held several meetings with the teachers and the parents to get feedback on how they feel the addition of the solar panels (in order to charge their OLPC laptops) has affected their school and their community. Both the teachers and the parents responded very well to the meetings and were very excited to get to become further involved in the project.
Another big part of the trip included the installation of the charging stations that were developed this semester. The team was able to design a simple charging station using materials that can easily be found in Haiti (pvc & hardboard) that costs less than a dollar per laptop to build. Not only did the team install a few of these new charging stations, but they were also able to get a couple of parents to show up and learn how to put them together. After the new set of charging stations were installed, a few of the students from the school were excited to help stack the laptops in their new home.
In addition to all of the meetings and the building of the charging stations, the team had another big task to accomplish. The team helped to hook up the school with the internet. With the help of our partners at Inveneo, the team not only connected the school to the internet, but also set up an entire campus network with three hot spots spread throughout. Each of these hot spots required the installation of an antenna and a small solar panel on the roof, and a charge controller and the wifi access point. Due to the addition of internet on the school's campus, the team was also able to install two servers at the school. One of the servers will be used to monitor the solar array that was installed in August, and the other server has been set up so that teachers can upload content locally and other teachers and students can access it from any computer.
One final meeting was held with the teachers at the end of the week. Since only two of the twelve teachers had ever used the internet, several of the team members held an internet training session with them. The students taught the teachers how to access content and upload new content to their new server. The teachers were also taught how to use tools such as Google Haiti and Wikipedia Haiti. Many of the teachers were quick to learn and had fun showing the others what they had found. At the end of the training session, the students walked the teachers through the steps in order for everyone to be able to make an e-mail account. The teachers were very grateful for this session and were beaming with excitement over this new tool that they now have access to and know how to use.
A lot of different things were accomplished during this trip including creating a much stronger bond with the school and the community. Even throughout the busy days of work, the team was able to find time to play games with the students during their breaks from class. Everyone had a lot of fun and was sad to leave the school towards the end of the week. The teachers and administrators are very excited for the team to return in the summer. Overall the trip was quite a success!
Happy Holidays from all of us at IITEmpoweringHaiti!
The IIT Empowering Haiti Team has been very busy this semester, planning for our next trip to Haiti in early December. We are working towards several ways of improving the installation at our pilot school, including connecting the school to the Internet, and are moving forward with meaningfully engaging the local community.
Among the technical challenges our team is addressing is how to store and simultaneously charge 400-500 laptops at Haitian schools. The charging stations and docks designed to-date have been too costly and service too few laptops, with the cheapest option costing around $4 perlaptop. Our goal is to reduce the cost of a charging station to less than $1 per laptop, using lowcost materials that are readily available and construction methods that require as few power tools as possible. The solution: a vertical PVC pipe tripod frame that stands four feet tall and can hold twenty XO laptops on corrugated plastic or hardboard shelves supported by nails. The projected cost per laptop is well under a dollar and the entire charging station can be constructed using a drill, hand saw, and knife. Here’s a video of our team assembling a model charging station: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=midXhgu3jwUOn October 21-23, several members of our team attended the OLPC Community Summit in SanFrancisco. We presented our prototype charging station, plans for implementation of a server at the school, hosted a session on our project’s main challenges, and attended numerous other valuable presentations. The team also met with Inveneo, a non-profit organization that trains locals in Haiti on how to set up Internet connections and start a small business based upon this,and with whom we are partnering to carry out the Internet connection at the EFACAP school in Lascahobas. We also met with two groups from UC Berkeley, where we received valuable feedback on how to focus on the longer-term objectives of the project.
We have a lot to accomplish on our upcoming trip including installation of the new laptop charging station and server components at our existing installation, site surveys at neighboring schools for potential future deployments, and strengthening our relationships with the local people who are involved in making this project a success. In addition to all of these tasks, we will be helping to connect our pilot school to the Internet! Both our team in Chicago and the team in Haiti are very excited about this new connection that will open the school to a whole new world of information, as well as enable communication between both teams.
As always, we thank all of you for your support! Please consider forwarding this email to others you know of who may be interested in our work, and be sure to visit our team’s website for further information: http://iitempoweringhaiti.org
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