Last week I had the privilege of traveling to the Dominican Republic with the organization Handfuls
of Hope. We went down to bring food, clothing, and care to some of the poorest villages about an
hour outside of Santo Domingo. We also built a roof, and did a lot of painting (photo above is me
after a full day's work painting).
The trip was an amazing experience, it was incredibly humbling how helpful and happy the
children were at the village. We think that all our stuff provides us with happiness, but in reality it
provides us with stress and obligation. After months planted behind my machine it was lovely to
be able to spend my days working outside. I even did construction and help put a roof on one of
the buildings in the village.
The folks there live without running water, mostly (a few homes had it). They only have electricity
for a few hours a day. I was spending some time chatting while painting a fence, and I learned
from one of the women that put the trip together that in the school (a small school with several
classrooms holding 10 or so students) there was a computers class that was held weekly.
Excited, I asked if I could see it. So, I stopped by and saw 10 adults in a classroom with 1
computer that a teacher was working with. There was a larger monitor they were all watching on
and learning from. From what I could see, a specific program was being taught on a Windows box,
it could have been anything, I didn't get to ask. I got to say "Hello," the experience was wonderful
and it was great to see that even in this place, where many people don't own much more than
their clothes, and this is their Wikipedia:
and they were being taught how to use a computer.
All that got me thinking, what is the most important thing to teach to adults who are seeing a
computer for the first time? What is the fastest way to get them from illiterate to a place where
they can be making money from the web like the rest of us?
The internet is a perfect environment for them to thrive. The decentralization of
commerce means that you don't have to own a storefront on Park Ave to make serious cash, or
ideally, feed your family. There are many organizations that take homemade crafts from third world
areas and put them online, however, what about empowering the people to do this themselves?
I immediately did what I do and broke things down into steps. Step one: find the tools to supply
them. The first place I looked to send help to this class was One Laptop Per Child to see if I
could buy some laptops and send them, from their site it appears you can only donate laptops to
the areas they designate (that makes perfect sense for their organization, just doing some
research). I could buy some netbooks and send them, but would need to come up with a strategy
to make them provide value, especially with no clear way to get them online. As much fun as
MS Word and Solitaire are, what could you show them that would turn them into tools that could
help feed a village?
That brings us to the second step, and that's teaching folks how to fish. The Kahn Academy has
an offline version of their site (I bet for this very reason), so that's a great place to start. Giving
them the ability to teach themselves the higher maths and sciences is key. In this village, it's
extremely rare to have anything higher than a middle school education as going to HS costs
money that they don't have. There is a lot that has to happen after that, and that's where I am lost.
Computing played a big role in my trip in general. Below I'm going to post some pictures of the kids
I hung out with there (taken with my iPad). I was able to communicate with them through this
offline app from Lonely Planet (and broken HS spanish). They loved my iPad, we played a lot of
Checkers and other games. It was a real study in how technology brings the world together.
In the end Girl Develop It donated money to their class to buy tools for the short term. I hope to
go back next year to teach and by then I'd like to have a helpful strategy, I'm going to continue
doing research on my end, but if anyone has seen anything like this out there it would be greatly