The earthquake in Haiti is a stunning disaster in a country already in crisis from decades of disastrous governments and natural calamities. The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, this new devastation we see every night on TV makes you want to do something -anything - to help the Haitian people.
But OLPC is not the right solution for Haiti right now. XO laptops will not help people dig out and restart lives. No matter how good your intentions, don't go to Haiti with XO's.
The XO laptop is an amazing educational tool. Its clock-stopping hot technology can revolutionize the way children learn and explore. But it wasn't designed for emergency relief efforts. Those cool technologies in schools are a hindrance in disaster areas:
- Mesh Networking: is amazing in theory, yet very picky in practice. While one day, the XO could be an instant communications tool when other networks are down, right now it takes an experienced Linux networking technician and very patient users. Where are either in Haiti?
- Sugar User Interface: is great to focus children on learning, but adults have found it hard to break years of windowing familiarity. Now make those adults stressed out after houses and lives were destroyed, and Sugar will be loved even less than it is now
- Low-Power Processing: can make the XO run for hours, if there is a traditional US power outlet. Otherwise you'll have to modify its odd-sized power cord to re-wire it for solar power - easy if you have a Radio Shack near, hard if you're in a disaster zone.
Wrong Use Case
But let's say you put Xtra Ordinary 2010 on your XO and claim its useful for adults. And you actually do find an organization with the capacity to deploy XO laptops. Just what is the use case? How will the XO laptop be effective in a post-disaster situation?
- Communications tool: is arguably the XO's best application - allowing people to communicate with loved ones. But how? Internet access was minimal, even before the earthquake, and now its almost non-existent. Haitians may not even have an email address or be literate. Add in that mobile phone networks will be up faster, and easier for people to use - the XO becomes a poor substitute.
- Documentation tool: Record is one of the most popular applications in any situation, and even more so to document tragedy and hope. But isn't a camera phone or simple digital camera easier and better in a disaster zone?
- Community-Building tool: is OLPC's greatest benefit, but in stable communities that can support focused learning. In Haiti, even in the best of times, children were afraid of XO theft. Now make it desperate times, and I fear XO's will be fought over with guns and knives, destroying lives already compromised.
The Right Time & Place
One Laptop Per Child does have a benefit for Haiti. It will help children to learn learning and communities to celebrate schooling - when deployed in a stable educational environment. Days after a devastating earthquake is not the right time, in a failed state in total disarray is not the right place.
If you want an XO laptop to have impact, if you want One Laptop Per Child Haiti to succeed, wait one year from now. When the crisis journalists have left, when emergency crews are gone, and the long, slow rebuilding process truly starts with Haitian-invested organizations like Waveplace Foundation
For Haitians and OLPC supporters, the real XO impact is not today, its next year, its the next decade, its when the next generation of Haitian children can learn and explore with XO laptops, with only distant memories of disasters - man-made and natural - long past.
OLPC Haiti Posts
- Shocking OLPC Haiti Pilot Project Report From IADB
- Cost breakdown of OLPC Haiti's Project HA-T1093
- The Impact of Riots in Haiti on One Laptop Per Child
- OLPC Haiti: A Path Out of Poverty for Poor Children
- OLPC Haiti: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of XO's in Abject Poverty
- Waveplace Foundation Brings XO Spark To Caribbean Children