Don't Go with XO's: OLPC Isn't Right Haiti Earthquake Response


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.

olpc Caribbean
XO hope, but not right now

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.

Wrong Technologies

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.
olpc Caribbean
Build long-term XO happiness

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.

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My name is Jonah Bossewitch and I am a lapsed OLPCNews contributor who has strayed from the flock, but still has (a shaken) [more]

Nicholas Negroponte is making the case that we should donate our XO's to OLPC - broken or unused - for redistribution in Haiti. [more]


It is a very sad time for brothers and sisters of Haiti. With recent tragic incident in Haiti killing over 100000 people, donations can help them to recover soon. We have created a small website which provides easy links to all Non Profit organizations for donations like Red Cross, Unicef etc You Can Help Haiti! Thanks, Prayers.


I looked at the Waveplace Foundation website to learn about its Haitian operation. Its school is located in Pitite Riviere De Nippes in a multiple story building. There is no information listed at the Waveplace Foundation website, but looking at its vicinity to the epicenter of the earthquake and its building's design, I would expect that its concrete structure had been destroyed.

I would like to share something about Haiti. Haiti is a country under military occupation since the US instigated Coup d'Etat of February 2004. The entry of ten thousand heavily armed US troops, coupled with the activities of local militia could potentially precipitate the country into social chaos.
These foreign forces have entered the country to reinforce MINUSTAH "peacekeepers" and Haitian police forces (integrated by former Tonton Macoute), which since 2004, have been responsible for war crimes directed against the Haitian people, including the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

The following seems to be making the rounds on several local geek lists. Rather than post the entire (and still growing) thread from the LUG and HacDC
lists, I refer you to the source:

Click the "CrisisCamp Haiti, Washington, DC" link on the right for specifics...

I think your post is really misplaced. Suggesting that children in Haiti should not get any better education or not even the hope of a better education because of the earth-quake.

Google search for olpc Haiti dated before 2010 brings up 134 thousand results.,cd_min:5/23/2004,cd_max:1/1/2010&tbo=1

Unlike most all other non profits that currently campaign to help Haiti, olpc has been there for a much longer time and should absolutely be there 1000 times stronger than they have.

OLPC should be distributed in priority to all the poorest children in the most miserable places, this is exactly how you do the most good per dollar. The more GDP/person, the better education/child that the country already has before OLPC, the less % of an improvement each child and each family could get from the laptops.

Someone should document it with real numbers, I believe that if a family that makes $3 per day gets olpc into the children of that Family, that family is more likely to double it's income within 3 years and the income may be increased by 100 within 15 years if the educational effect is utilized to the maximum.

OLPC Haiti is a great idea, but in the context of organizations like Waveplace Foundation - long-term invested NGOs, not as a fly-in-then-leave emergency responder. Let is invest in Haiti education, not band-aid it.

If they had spend the extra billions they collected for the 2004 Tsunami into getting laptops to the Children, those tens of millions of Children would have been MUCH BETTER OFF today, imagine that for a second.

Your logic is just so wrong.

Children that became orphans of the Tsunami that were 6-10 are now 12-16 years old. The difference for those Children having access to ICT and the worlds knowledge or NOT is a huge difference. It can mean the difference between being able to make $50 a day and $0.50 a day.

When a disaster of this magnitude strikes, the first five priorities are sanitation, water, food, medical assistance and shelter. This is the case without question.

In the weeks in the aftermath as basic needs are met, it is often -- if not always -- the case that enormous numbers of people become internally displaced. They live in places different from their home or even home town, and UN agencies and NGOs do their best to provide necessities, including education for children. These children, most of whom had only poor education prior to a disaster, are often left with nowhere to learn. Dozens of factors contribute to this.

Within six months at the latest, OLPC will without a doubt be working to get connected laptops into the hands of children in camps across Haiti. By partnering with a UN agency like UNICEF or WFP, and the current OLPC team in Haiti, we are in a position to help children start learning again while reconstruction is underway.

Children in camps will need to learn, play, and discover that the world outside their decimated home is very much committed to their future.

We at OLPC are working to figure out how to continue to bring education and hope to as many children in Haiti as possible, building on the 60 schools we work with today. To say that OLPC should not be in Haiti for the next year is a misunderstanding of the needs of children in what can seem like a hopeless situation.

Agreed, 6 months from now is a great timeline for XO introduction. But not six days later - OLPC is an education tool, not an immediate emergency response.

Wayan wrote:

"OLPC is an education tool, not an immediate emergency response."

On the other hand, the XO would allow children to quickly learn the fundamentals of medical care, including minor surgery. As we know, kids learn much faster than adults, so it follows that distributing the XO in large quantities today, one week after the earthquake, could result in a young, well-educated medical emergency team within a month or so. I think Dr Negroponte should personally make sure the computers are sent ASAP. This is a wonderful opportunity to test them on the field. The Haitian economy depends on it, now more than ever.

What?! XO's creating a child-powered medical team for minor surgery? I do hope you mean pulling out splinters or applying splints - not tending to long bone and crush injuries, or early necrotizing soft tissue infections that PiH reports is common in Haiti.

Wayan wrote:

"I do hope you mean pulling out splinters or applying splints - not tending to long bone and crush injuries, or early necrotizing soft tissue infections that PiH reports is common in Haiti."

I clearly said "minor surgery"; there is no question in my mind that prompt distribution of the XO in Haiti will unleash the dormant power of a neglected population of children whose energy and thirst for knowledge would soon result in community care centers where ambulatory and short-term medical intervention would provide much-needed relief in these times of crisis. The alternative is to let those kids free to roam the streets and possibly joing the gangs perpetrating the violence and chaos that we see on tv.

What's better, young doctors or illiterate criminals? The choice is clear.


Love your jokes, but resist the urge to change names and usual line of attack to get the goat. It only works once.

Relax, Wayan.

Yes, you fell for the joke (must confess I had a great laugh at you expense, especially the part about "minor surgery"), but, then again, the whole thread is a big joke in itself, isn't it?

I have to confess I almost fell for it too. Some OLPC true believers are so fanatical that it's hard to tell snark from reality.

Here's a relevant article. "Disaster Do-Gooders Can Actually Hinder Help":

Thanks, Mark - that's a gread read, and spot on.


Having been trained in development work, we have heard about these DO GOODERS that just end up being fools!

They think they can do what locals can not get done! All the while, they can not speak the language or even know the local geography! Taking literal food from the mouths of the locals is so shameful and their attitude of superiority is hurtful to the people they are attempting to help!

Hi all, Tim Falconer from Waveplace. Just a quick update to let everyone know that the schools and kids from our two Haitian pilots, and the upcoming one in Matanwa, are all alive and safe for now. The building in Petit-Riviere was spared, and luckily the Port-Au-Prince children were moved to the new facility in Williamson just prior to the earthquake.

Our chief mentor, Bill Stelzer, is in Port-Au-Prince now . . he's helping with the schools and filming. He & Suzie have been on CNN twice in the last two days (

I'm now in Cambridge MA in talks with MIT and OLPC, so will have a longer rebuttal to this post when I find time :) I agree that each of the points raised are valid concerns, though we're still proceeding with a plan which will be announced later that does involve XOs, though not initially for education.

Take care,

I wish all children in Haiti owned an XO or OLPC, their mesh-network was certainly going to locate those trapped in crushed building.
OLPC may not be great help in major surgeries but certainly could locate those requiring medical help.