“Why are you going to Haiti? Aren’t you worried about your safety, the lack of infrastructure, and getting malaria and typhoid from going? How does this fit with your blog?”
I was asked a lot of questions about my trip to Haiti prior to my January departure. My only objective was to see the country for my own eyes, past the news reports and photos presented in the media since the 2010 earthquake but little did I know that my trip would light a fire in me to return.
Naming ourselves #Bloggers4Haiti, I traveled with a small group of influential women in the social media sphere to learn about artists who sell their crafts through a “Trade, Not Aid” initiative launched by artist and social entrepreneur, Willa Shalit, The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, and Macy’s Heart of Haiti program.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and despite the devastating earthquake, Haitians are filled with hope and an incredible desire to improve their lives through employment. Options are very limited in the country but this doesn’t deter the women we met who were full of refreshing entrepreneurial spirit. Among the artisans we visited, all wanted the chance to make a living to feed their families and earn enough money to send their children’s school fees. Since school in Haiti isn’t free, the women viewed their own education as a way to earn more money to create better lives for their children.
As a former teacher, I was refreshed by the Haitian’s desire to learn and loved being part of formal teaching opportunities as well as seizing on teachable moments. From teaching DamDam in the Haitian countryside about computers and the internet for the first time to a formal training session about social media tools with Port-au-Prince business women on our last day of our trip, I was able to witness how technology can facilitate social and political change in Haiti and necessitates education about the devices and tools that can serve as a conduit to share their businesses and stories with a global audience.
Drawing on my background of designing and delivering professional development for teachers, managing federal education grants, and teaching, I’m collaborating with members of #Bloggers4Haiti and fellow technology bloggers to write a nonprofit grant that will allow us to return to Haiti to continue the work we started.
Our grant includes a multi-day training plan and materials to educate women about social media tools and online and mobile safety issues. This collaborative grant will teach women how to use technology in order to communicate their personal stories through social media and professional goals through websites and Facebook pages for their businesses. We not only want to teach Haitian women about technology, but create a sustainable model that will empower them to use their voices to create change in the country and also share their knowledge of technology with each other.
When individuals or organizations come to Haiti with good intentions of providing money or assistance, the model is not sustainable. Haitians are continually frustrated by visitors who come to offer assistance, but never return to follow through. The model I envision builds capacity by empowering attendees to return to their communities to share their knowledge with others. It is a sustainable model that ultimately creates independence, while also spreading the information widely.
Technology can serve as a helpful tool to achieve a better life, but there’s also a need to provide early, proactive, and sustainable education about computer usage and social media tools. It’s also important that such efforts include imparting knowledge of security issues surrounding internet usage and cellular data. It would be irresponsible to not provide a well-rounded education about technology to those who need it and provide them with the tools to share their knowledge with others.
I have no doubt that my return trip will raise more questions but I also hope that it will inspire others to look beyond themselves at the skills that they have and can teach others who have a desire to learn in order to create better lives for themselves.
The majority of this trip was personally funded but I did receive a scholarship from Everywhere to help me defray some of my travel costs. All opinions are my own and based on my experience.
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