Why Did We Do This?

See that photo?
That's why.
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The How and the why

Over many years we have volunteered in some of the most impoverished and at risk schools and learning centers to try to bring the access and opportunity of technology and education. Over that time we began to see a need that was not being met. Many sites struggle with power, internet, security and understanding of technology. There needed to be a better avenue to introduce and nurture the addition of a digital based learning solution. Committed to show these kids they have value and can achieve so much, we began working on the idea of a mobile tablet and laptop computer lab. Customized to each location and environment, we wanted to give the access they needed and the knowledge to utilize it.

Read on the learn about some of the things that got us here and now.

Republica dominicana

2012 -School for the Deaf.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

In 2012 we were involved with 3 separate computer labs in Santo Domingo. One of those was at the School for the Deaf. The story of these kids was incredible and many time heart breaking. Many of the kids that are deaf in the DR are shut out from their families and thought to be broken or bad. Sometimes, they are not even given a name. The loss of hearing is due to many factors but many are due to illness at a young age. The school was a place they could come and learn how to communicate with the rest of the world and show that world they were not broken. We assisted a great team installing a 10 mini-laptop computer lab that gave the kids and teachers access to videos using sign language lesson plans, software for typing skills and access to visual math and reading software.

What we learned here was need for mobility and need for adaptable learning styles. The principal gathered the laptops every night and either took them home or locked them in a safe due to the high crime rate in the area. Oh, we also learned a few words in sign language and the sign names the children gave us

2013 - REMAR Orphanage.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

With our second trip to Dominican Republic, we installed our first of 2 labs that year at a home for children with incredible needs. Some of the children were HIV positive, some deal with MS, some deal with the knowledge that their families deserted them, some deal with other illnesses or tragic loss. The amazing and blessed thing about it though...It was probably the happiest kids I had ever met! The environment was harsh. No or very little running water. Many kids to a room, many times, more than one to a bed. This was a challenge to see and still hold true to the belief that technology could be a help or was needed here. After a conversation with the house father, he assured us it was a need among many but a need none the less. On this trip we installed a 10 mini laptop lab at the home and at the school these kids went to. The home lab was for homework and for play time for kids that earned it. On a personal side note, this is when I first met Kachu (that's his nickname, real name Jose. He is with me in the pic below) and we have been inseparable since then.

Since this was a home, we learned more about how we needed to protect the kids from the dark side of the internet. We also learned the need to have remote access to manage and change access levels of certain sites and topics.

2014 -Tia Tatiana K-12 School,
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

In 2014 we took on a biggest install to date. On previous trips we had visited Tia Tatiana school a few times. They had a computer lab that had been installed years before. Full sized and very outdated desktop machines. Most of them had become unusable and sat in the corner rusting away. The school is one of the very few private K-12 schools and that meant the lab could see so much use but instead it slowly deteriorated from environment and hardware decline. As a team in 2013 we made a commitment to see this lab rebuilt and work to bring a great learning tool back to life. Working closely with the schools administration and community leaders, we created a need list and a plan of attack. The community of Herrera is a slum mainly comprised of squatter homes and rooms built on rooms built on rooms. It is a neighborhood full of gangs, drugs and prostitution. The school was created to combat the challenges the children living in the area. It has been a huge success and still hold great respect in the neighborhood and surrounding areas.

Just like other locations, security was a priority. At the school, mobility was a challenge as well. The lab was on the top floor of a large multi-floor building that would remind you of a MC Escher painting. We determined our only available approach at the time was a stationary lab of 25 laptops. This location was a big factor in our realization of the need to have a mobile lab to take from classroom to classroom and offer more than just 1 type of learning. 

2015 -The Village of Cotui,
Dominican Republic

The village of Cotui was our last lab install. Mind you, there have been other repair projects and upgrade projects that have happened during the last few years, but this is the last full last we installed before our pilot project box is to be deployed. Cotui is a small village about 2 hours north of Santo Domingo. It is mainly a rice farming village. Once you leave Santo Domingo there is not much to see on your way to Cotui other than mountains and tiny villages along the road and near the rice fields and gold mining operations. Just a year or so ago an effort was made to build a learning center for the children of this village and a few other surrounding villages. It is a sanctuary for the children and adults and is used for learning, playing and meeting. The kids were so interested in seeing what we were there to do and we spent all day playing and learning what this village life was. In hind sight, this was really a defining moment in our planning and developing idea of our mobile lab idea.

Cotui is the true test of learning and education and technology. Access to anything is very limited. The primary lesson we learned; mobility. Many of our installation hinted to this needing to be a major focus but Cotui drove it home. Without internet or electricity most of the day or for days in some cases. How do you teach and how do you learn? Seeing this environment and knowing the needs and working toward a viable solution. This is what our ultimate goal was coming to.