OLPC Haiti: A Path Out of Poverty for Poor Children

   
   
   
   
   

Wayan Vota is a nice guy, and clearly means well, and supports the XO in general. But I don't think he entirely Gets It with his post on OLPC Haiti: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of XO's in Abject Poverty.

Wayan has three specific objections:

  • Children won't be able to take XOs home without being robbed or even killed.
  • What is the follow-up, if children are successful in elementary school with the XO, but cannot continue in school?
  • Haiti can't afford this program. Who will pay for it?
I am Edward Cherlin of Earth Treasury and I have a some answers.

OLPC Safety

olpc Caribbean
A glimmer of Haitian XO hope

OK, safety first. Robbery is a possibility, with XOs going for more than $400 on eBay. The usual advice from big US cities applies about not getting killed: Don't fight an armed robber. We can replace your XO, but we can't replace you. But there are places in Haiti not under gang rule. Why not start there?

How about the area where Paul Farmer's Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasanté is providing free health care? Or, wait, here's a thought. Why not talk to the gangs, and offer their chidren some XOs, and a path out of gang life? On the condition, of course, that they protect every child carrying an XO in their territory.

Leveraging OLPC Education

I'm not clear on the objection to giving little children just the first part of an education. Is it not good for anything? In Haiti, I hear that a conventional sixth grade education puts you ahead of the pack when looking for work. In the case of the XO, a sixth grade education includes computer repair, three or four years of programming, Web design, and other entirely marketable skills. But there is far more.

The children get to make contact with the outside world. Earth Treasury is creating plans for getting students into international businesses together. We are definitely going to be able to hire elementary school graduates for some of our enterprises, because we will design them around the available skills, and not the skills of ridiculously expensive university-educated First World workers such as myself.

My current day job is contract Tech Writing at $60-$65/hr., but I have also been a market analyst, a software developer, and a serial non-profit founder. I'm currently available. Or you are welcome to donate to Earth Treasury.

And are you going to tell me that you never heard of distance learning, online schools, and cooperative home schooling? Do you think that someone with access to the Internet and six years experience in collaboration will be incapable of learning the necessary from it?

If the lack of secondary schools in Haiti is the problem, then the solution isn't idiotic withdrawal, it's the creation of a complete online secondary education system where the students teach each other with help from anybody else who knows anything and is willing to pitch in. Yes, that's work, yes, that's hard (Life is hard, as hard as possible, but no harder), yes, we don't quite know how to do it (which makes it research), but tell me: Is it better to teach children to make candles, or to curse the darkness?

OLPC Costs

Haiti certainly cannot afford this program out of current income. But that isn't the correct question. Can such a program result in sufficient economic growth to result in increased tax revenue sufficient to cover the costs of, say, a 20-year bond, or an international loan? I have a spreadsheet that says Yes, and I would buy some of those bonds. What do you have?

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24 Comments

So Ed, you think that somehow OLPC Haiti will:

1. deliver a sixth grade education including three or four years of programming, Web design, and other entirely marketable skills,
2. create distance learning, online schools, and cooperative home schooling,
3. and inspire a complete online secondary education system?

Wow. That might be even more crazy that thinking it will only cost $365 per laptop to roll out the OLPC Haiti pilot. But not much more. Haiti is not utopia. Its not even Bangladesh. And while dreams are fun, let's work with reality - where OLPC will be operating too.

This has to be, without doubt, the most bizzarre, idiotic post ever published by OLPC News.

No wonder the author admits to being a "serial non-profit founder". With his complete detachment from reality, no project of his ever stands a chance of success.

Truly out, out there and close to the asylum.

You neglected to answer my questions, Wayan.

*What about deploying XOs in a safer area, such as the uplands where PIH works?

*Why not talk to the gangs? It was a serious suggestion. It works in parts of Los Angeles.

*I have a spreadsheet on financing XOs in Haiti. What do you have?

*Is it better to teach children to make candles, or to curse the darkness?

Wayan left out a key part of the article I sent in, about how the original meaning of the word 'idiot' among the ancient Greeks was 'political naysayer' and 'person who refuses to get involved'. And then I called him an idiot. Like this:

No, Wayan, you 100% copper-bottomed Greek idiot, I don't think OLPC Haiti will do all this. I think we, the world, will do this. With or without _you_. You express incredulity and unwillingness to get with the program, while providing no factual basis in support of your opinions. Your unsupported opinions, like anybody else's, are worthless. I will now cite facts. Just a few for the moment, but I have lots more if needed.

The XO education program in grades 1-6 will deliver a sixth grade education. Do you doubt this?

XOs provide for education in programming in Smalltalk, Logo, Python, and FORTH, starting effectively in third grade. Not only twelve-year-olds, but now five-year-olds have demonstrated the ability to repair XOs. So what part of the program don't you believe in, and why not? What do you actually know about the XO education program? Do you even believe in collaborative discovery? Do you understand what it means to give children the complete source code to their computers? That's not all, but it will do for now.

The rest of the online distance learning and so on is up to us, and the children. As usual, my money is on the children, not on armchair analysts who are apparently unable to see past the ends of their noses, and are unwilling to roll up their sleeves.

You know, Wayan, it hasn't occurred to me to ask before, but why don't I see you volunteering to help OLPC? Why aren't you on the mailing lists? Why don't you have a page on the Wiki?

> Why not talk to the gangs, and offer their chidren some XOs, and a path out of gang life?

OMFG, I must get a new shirt due to fluid spillage.

> The XO education program in grades 1-6 will deliver a sixth grade education. Do you doubt this?

Isn't that a tautology, unless you mean that the XO would be working alone, outside the school system?

XOs provide for education in programming in Smalltalk, Logo, Python, and FORTH, starting effectively in third grade.

> Not only twelve-year-olds, but now five-year-olds have demonstrated the ability to repair XOs.

Well no, the videos show the kids taking apart to some extent and putting it back together. Cool, but not the same thing as "repair".

So what part of the program don't you believe in, and why not? What do you actually know about the XO education program? Do you even believe in collaborative discovery?

> Do you understand what it means to give children the complete source code to their computers?

Do you realize that the XO does not carry source code or compilers for the majority of the software it runs? The python sugar stuff is just the semisweet icing on a big cake.

> I have a spreadsheet on financing XOs in Haiti. What do you have?

Try "selling" it to a development (or charity) bank. Publish the thing for god's sake, if you want a sanity check on it.

Thanks, Irvin. Coming from you, that's high praise.

Anonymous wrote on March 04, 2008:
> Ed Cherlin wrote on March 04, 2008:
>> Why not talk to the gangs, and offer their chidren some XOs,
>> and a path out of gang life?

> OMFG, I must get a new shirt due to fluid spillage.

Put the cup down before you read this, then.

My grandfather was a bootlegger with cover from the New Jersey mob. That was long before I was born, of course, but my father was in the business along with his brother and three sisters. The mob is quite happy to give people protection from other gangs and from the police if they get something they want out of it.

In Chicago, where I was born, there were people who looked for houses to buy in neighborhoods where mob bosses lived, because they were the lowest crime areas of the city.

http://www.advanceproj.org/016.html
“We must build a city where...any gang member who wants out can exit la vida loca—and live. Then let get really radical and actually end the malignant poverty that drives the violent dysfunction. Choose this road or join Rio's trajectory toward Mogadishu.”

— from “L.A.'s Budding Mogadishus: Nearly feral areas need urgent help,” by Constance L. Rice, printed in the Los Angeles Times, December 23rd, 2004.

"In 1992, gang leaders throughout Los Angeles launched a remarkable set of ceasefire agreements and truces in communities ravaged by relentless gunfire and other violence fueled by crack-cocaine wars. Advancement Project's Connie Rice played a key role in supporting the truce movement, raising funds for truce programs and rallying allies from Hollywood, the world of lawyers and the ranks of law enforcement. She also facilitated dialogue between truce leaders and police, reducing the friction that threatened enforcement of the truce agreements."

I am here to defend Edward in his lone crusade.

1-Gangs: It's not possible to cooperate with gangs very much but it is possible to get a truce out of it, once they see the benefit to their own community (as therefore a benefit to their status and reputation inside that community). I see it happening all the time in Rio de Janeiro. But that's atruce to a ertain extent, and you will have to pay a price, which probably means that a certain percentage of the laptops bought out of good hearted donors will finish in the hands of gang leaders who will use it to run better their ugly dirty mob business.

But instead let's focus on the other side which is: find a cool gangfree spot on haiti and start development from there

2-Education: I do not believe Haiti can manage itself to build a better high school or ong distance education, but that's not edward's point. If you get those kids enough fundamental education you are helping some of them to coninue their learning by other, more informal means.

Education is not an all or nothing game, basic education mught be enough to make change happen in some places

3-Money: The whole point of the Eds post was that it might be possible to finance olpc efforts in some areas of haiti without haiti's help. The whole idea of g1g1 was to be able to ge xo to countries that could not afford it themselves.


4-but then there is the mudhut argument. Maybe haiti is below a certain social chaos threshold where an OLPC program is not enough or helpful. The xo are made to be very useful in stable areas where kids have access to their basic necessities of health, food and minimal social stability to afford to go to school regularly, but not much else in terms of quality education or opportunities. Such areas, are usually not occupied by UN peace soldiers, which is Haiti's case.

But then maybe there is more than one haiti. Maybe there is one village, or one school where there are 100 kids that can benefit from a small olpc help. But the one laptop is not the one solution for the whole country.

Ed is right. Not all of Haiti is full of hate.

Much of the country is rural, farming, families, poverty where gangs find no reason to be simply because the people have nothing.

Of course if the people did start to have something of worth...

But I'd like to hear from people that are on the ground already helping the poor. They would have a better idea of the needs of the Haitian children. Maybe implementing XO education is a grassroots project? If the OLPC provided laptops (and some infrastructure) to local groups wanting to start XO educations the funding can come from continued Give One Get One sales.

Thanks for the PIH link Ed, I enjoyed reading about their projects.

Ed,

I am still thinking about both articles about Haiti so I won't comment on them before I have a more defined opinion. I will comment on your assertion that Wayan Vota is not helping OLPC.

Wayan puts a ton of work into this website and the OLPC Forums. I can tell you for a fact that he isn't in it for the $ (what $?). The google ads just cover his bandwidth costs. He probably spends at least 30 hours a week on OLPC. As Mary Lou Jepsen pointed out some time ago, Wayan is making an important volunteer contribution to the project by providing a diversity of views on OLPC via this website.

OLPC is a community and strong communities require active, critical dialogue. Wayan makes an important contribution to that dialogue. Exchanges like this one are vital to the overrall health of the OLPC movement.

I am a serial entrepreneur myself w/ some failed enterprises to my name. In my experience, if everyone agrees completely then no one is really thinking hard about the problem.

Bryan Berry
OLE Nepal
http://www.olenepal.org

One more point Ed, good dialogue means you can attack someone's ideas but not their character. You can attack Wayan's ideas but don't assail this character by calling him an idiot. That's not productive for anyone. Also, don't attack his commitment, the extent of his commitment is obvious from the amount of work he has put into this website.

I've gotta come down on the cynical side of this -- the OLPC will be hard to have the impact you're describing in the best of circumstances.

As for this spreadsheet; how about you post it on Google Docs and let the OLPCNews readers have a peek?

@Ed:
"Coming from you, that's high praise."

Indeed, you must do something right.

My general perspective is that I am hesitant to criticize people who have actually been there (as I assume you have). The news media are a bad guide, but it is a good sign Haiti is not in Robert Young Pelton's "the World's Most Dangerous Places" :-).

It is clear that the OLPC was not designed for unstable places like Haiti. But it was also not designed to show of at Starbucks, and it is used for that too. So we can predict that the XO cannot be deployed the same way in Haiti as in Equador or Nepal. There are enough suggestions in both posts about the problems your project might encounter.

Your suggestions are a start. And in general, if you see a way to help these people, who am I to discourage you? But I think the odds of the project are not high. I can see why the OLPC does not want to be involved.

Everyone who donates should know that. But if they think the effort is worth the risk, go for it.

Winter

@winter
I can see why the OLPC does not want to be involved.

Eh? OLPC is involved. More than 10,000 computers going to Haiti come through the Give One Get One program.

@Ed:
"OLPC is involved. More than 10,000 computers going to Haiti come through the Give One Get One program."

My error. Must have misinterpreted something or maybe I should stop speed-reading.

A big gamble I think. But they and you are better placed to judge the odds. All the luck in the world to you all in pulling this off.

Winter

> The whole idea of g1g1 was to be able to ge xo to countries that could not afford it themselves.

Er, no. The whole idea of G1G1 was to finally start the XO assembly line, since no one else wanted to buy any at the time.

1. deliver a sixth grade education including three or four years of programming, Web design, and other entirely marketable skills,
2. create distance learning, online schools, and cooperative home schooling,
3. and inspire a complete online secondary education system?

This is the very best roadmap I've seen so far on what OLPC _should_ achieve. It goes SO far beyond "creativity and exploration".

Yes, it won't be easy, but right now I'm printing those 3 goals in 50-point font and nailing it to my wall. There is much wisdom there. Thanks, Wayan and Ed

Edward, could you post the spreadsheet? I'm curious what your assumptions are.

I would love to post my spreadsheet on financing XO purchases through bonds or loans. Currently it is in a form that makes sense to me, but would not be meaningful to others. Perhaps someone else has more time for this exercise. I'm trying to recruit people to various translation, software development, and content production projects, which have a higher priority for me.

The idea is to take the cost of some number of XOs for a group of students over 12 years of school, make some economic assumptions (which should be spelled out, and set up so that the model can be tweaked), generate a future cash flow series, and calculate its Net Present Value and Return on Investment. None of this is rocket science, but it does require more than casual acquaintance with your spreadsheet software. A little financial background helps, but is not strictly necessary.

The economic assumptions include the rate of growth of an economy with and without the investment in education, and the interest rate that the country has to pay on bonds or international loans. Depending what numbers you put in, you will find that some sets of assumptions lead to success, and others to failure. We then can discuss how to create conditions for success.

Any takers? If so, let's move this to one of the mailing lists, which are more suited to this sort of continued discussion. OLPC-Open, I think. Join at http://lists.laptop.org/.

Edward wrote:

"I would love to post my spreadsheet on financing XO purchases through bonds or loans. Currently it is in a form that makes sense to me, but would not be meaningful to others. Perhaps someone else has more time for this exercise. I'm trying to recruit people to various translation, software development, and content production projects, which have a higher priority for me."

Translation: I was just bs*ing you, guys, while trying to belittle Wayan. I never had any spreadsheet to begin with. It was just a silly attempt at bolstering my bizarre claims.

"The idea is to take the cost of some number of XOs for a group of students over 12 years of school, make some economic assumptions (which should be spelled out, and set up so that the model can be tweaked), generate a future cash flow series, and calculate its Net Present Value and Return on Investment."

Translation: sorry guys, it more of the same bs, with some pseudo-financial terminology mixed-in for effect. I'm a sorry ass.


"None of this is rocket science, but it does require more than casual acquaintance with your spreadsheet software. A little financial background helps, but is not strictly necessary."

Translation: As you can see, any weirdo like me can just make any bold claims as long as Google is available to get my hands on some financial jargon. Actual knowledge is not necessary. Anyone got a job for me?


"The economic assumptions include the rate of growth of an economy with and without the investment in education, and the interest rate that the country has to pay on bonds or international loans."

Translation: I know, i know...the XO can't have any measurable impact on economy, but i'm just a dim-witted, compulsive liar/dreamer. What can i do?

"Depending what numbers you put in, you will find that some sets of assumptions lead to success, and others to failure. We then can discuss how to create conditions for success."

Translation: I'm ready to admit that the whole thing is bogus and the outcome of my spaghetti accounting can be tweaked by just inputting whatever numbers we fancy.

Wayan, isn't it about time Irvin was hit with the BAN stick.
Calling someone 'a dim-witted, compulsive liar/dreamer' is more than enough in my book.

This 'Irvin' person always attacks other people, not their arguments. Not the kind of people we want here.

Robert arrowsmith wrote:

"Wayan, isn't it about time Irvin was hit with the BAN stick."

Where was the blog police (you) when edward was openly INSULTING Wayan for disagreeing with his insane ideas?

Why didn't you say a word when Edward, without reason or evidence attacked the OWNER of this blog?

I have written NOTHING that can even remotely compare to these insults and personal attacks:

"No, Wayan, you 100% copper-bottomed Greek idiot, I don't think OLPC Haiti will do all this. I think we, the world, will do this. With or without _you_."

"You express incredulity and unwillingness to get with the program, while providing no factual basis in support of your opinions."

"Your unsupported opinions, like anybody else's, are worthless. I will now cite facts. Just a few for the moment, but I have lots more if needed."

(it turns out his "facts" amount to a single spreadsheet that doesn't even exist!)

"The XO education program in grades 1-6 will deliver a sixth grade education. Do you doubt this? "

"XOs provide for education in programming in Smalltalk, Logo, Python, and FORTH, starting effectively in third grade. Not only twelve-year-olds, but now five-year-olds have demonstrated the ability to repair XOs. So what part of the program don't you believe in, and why not? "

"What do you actually know about the XO education program?"

"Do you even believe in collaborative discovery? Do you understand what it means to give children the complete source code to their computers? "

"As usual, my money is on the children, not on armchair analysts who are apparently unable to see past the ends of their noses, and are unwilling to roll up their sleeves."

"You know, Wayan, it hasn't occurred to me to ask before, but why don't I see you volunteering to help OLPC? Why aren't you on the mailing lists? Why don't you have a page on the Wiki?"


*THAT* should have elicited a request for a ban from you, robert arrowsmith. But you're just a coward, incapable of doing the right thing, exhibiting mob mentality like all cowards (let's lynch the weak one!) - bad news is, I can take care of myself.

Have a bit more moral integrity and give EVERYONE the treatment you want to give me, coward.

Irving, Robert, Ed,

The big difference in all this is that I had a good laugh at "copper-bottomed Greek idiot." I thought it was one of the more creative insults I've ever had the pleasure of receiving. And I don't get my panties all twisted in a wad when someone tries to make a comment go personal. We all get emotional about OLPC and that passion is positive.

That said, everyone needs to chill out. OLPC has its programmatic problems, we all have our own personal problems. Let's not piss on OLPC News by mixing the two.

You're right Wayan. Just because some jerk wants to mouth off at people and piss on our discussions is no reason to get worked up. I got all emotional there before and I apologise to Irvin for any heartfelt comment I might have made towards him.

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