The Impact of Riots in Haiti on One Laptop Per Child


Timothy Falconer, from the Waveplace Foundation, wrote to inform about the current status of events in Haiti, as many riots took over Port-au-Prince, where he is running a OLPC pilot project:

olpc Caribbean
A glimmer of Haitian XO hope
"The children and staff are safe, though they have only enough food and medicine for about a week. The markets have been closed in Port-Au-Prince, so this could become a concern. Emile said earlier today that he feels things will get better soon because of the peacekeepers.

Everyone's taking it day by day. I just got off the phone with Emile, our chief mentor in Haiti, who is staying in the countryside until things come down. Our pilot is effectively on hold due to safety concerns. I'll update you when I hear more about the children, who are close to the area of the protests."

This raises two important issues on the Haiti Pilot. The first is one that was brought before by Wayan: OLPC is an education project, but there are maybe some places that are beyond the reach of the One Laptop goal. It seems that the riots are calming down now, but what if they did not?

If violence in Port au Prince escalated to a point where most family would be forced to flee to surrounding areas, what would happen to the pilot project? Would the families disperse and the valuable laptops quickly vanish from the kid's hand as they where forced to sell/give it away? Or would Waveplace Foundation grab all the laptops from international donors and move out of the country, or risk having the school looted to bare bones?

Maybe we have to wait until political stability has reigned in some places, before a long term education project can be invested. Maybe it's too much risk for those precious resources that could be more safely invested in quiet rural areas in Peru. Maybe the "Mudhut argument" is true and laptops serve no good for kids below a certain threshold of poverty, that lack more basic things such a peaceful environment in which to grow.

Or maybe not, and that's the second important issue on this. Watch this footage sent us from Haiti:

Although it has CNN stamped on it it's clear that much of those videos are made from amateur cameras. We are talking about impoverished Haiti, all right, but we are talking about a 21st Century impoverished Haiti and they are also part of the digital imaging generation, and those in the middle to upper class in Port au Prince can afford some way to film video and post it online.

None of them are actually coming from kids with XO laptops, but - hey they could be. We are all shocked hearing those reports of violence from Haiti, but maybe if there were no computers anywhere we might never hear them in the first place. Thanks to this connecting technology we can see the San Francisco Olympic torch protests live on the web, we can see the violence in Zimbabwe in Google maps.

And thanks to a mesh system this communication network might still work if everything else goes down. So giving the impoverished kids of Haiti a way to allow their voices be heard, their stories be told and allowing them hearing news from the world outside even during a crisis is a way to be a part of this new generation.

And maybe this is worth all the risks.

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We should not confuse our desire to know, and the fulfillment of that desire, as being a benefit to the victims of these conflicts.

No. But we should remember that for the victims of any conflicts, letting the world know about their situation might be one of their few hopes.

It's not morbid voyeurism, it's about being a part of a global society capable of international aid and peacekeeping.

I second Jordan fully. Widespread availability of mobile phones in Haiti, as in many places of the world, makes it possible for videos like this to be shown on CNN. To jump from there to conclude that the risks portrayed so vividly in the first part of the post are potentially worth taking just for the rest of the world to know what's going on in Haiti is a bit too much, specially since Haiti does not have the problems with journalistic access that other places have.

Haiti is a failed state: not a dictatorship or an oppressed region where dissemination is the key. Please, remember there is a significant presence of UN peacekeeping forces in the country for a number of years, that embassies and aid agencies still operate, and that the only hindrance journalists have is the permanent risk to the safety. It is not simply poverty, is the complete breakdown of society, just a little above Somalia. A friend that lived there as an ambassador for a Latin American country told me that the same neighborhood where his country's troops where able to provide basic support one day became a battleground the next just because of an argument between a couple of opposing side in a football dispute, that took a week and 200 troops to quell. That happened in the relatively quiet 2005.

I would like to change Jordans reply to:
"We should not confuse our apathy, and the fulfillment of that desire, as being a benefit to the victims of these conflicts."

Americans are spoon-fed media (CNN, FOX, ETC), therefor your focus is where they point to... one of my favorite journalism pieces was Yahoo's "Hot-Zone". Not only did one person cover all the worlds conflict zones in one year (there are a LOT more than you think!), but he asked a very vital question "How would you solve this problem?".

I feel the XO would allow children, people, communities, to be able to have a voice. It is a very frustrating (and extremely sad) existence if you cannot say and show what is going on around you. The XO is a tool to give them their voice.

There's two very different things--the XO as a communication device vs. the XO as an educational tool. (Of course they overlap a bunch, but...)

It's possible that some places are too unstable to benefit from the XO as an educational tool (but so far so good:

If it's only a communications tool, then it's probably not the right tool. Concentrating on cellphones would be better:

I'm kind of a utopian about communication--communication makes things better. That's more important *within* Haiti than between Haiti and me.


Ideally children will have access to education, composition / creation, and distribution tools. To get there, high-performance phones need to become more capable as publishing/distribution platforms for media they capture, and XOs and other small laptops need to become more capable as communications devices. [unfortunately, most cell phone models and networks require money and a paying account to do even the simplest things that require no marginal cost from the network providers. Until SMS between phones is free, phones are hardly providing the sort of comm infrastructure needed to build lasting knowledge, awareness, and community. Charging for SMS/email makes phone networks extremely non-neutral.]

Haiti is now filled with children displaced from their schools and homes who have lost some of the structure they had in their lives last week. With all the grassroots and top-down support pouring in to the country, we will soon see whether there are places where access to education and communication are making a difference.