Photo By: Courtesy of Robert Ende
The Ende family of Los Altos founded the nonprofit Books for Haiti, sponsored by the Los Altos Community Foundation. The organization collects donations of French-language books and Kindle eReaders and delivers them to students in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Following is Robert’s account of his recent trip to Haiti.
Madame Réa Dol, director of the SOPUDEP school in Haiti, told us that “anything can happen in Haitian customs.”
Remembering her none-too-comforting words, my daughter Tenaya and I joined the line of people clearing customs at the Port-au-Prince airport on a recent March morning.
Our backpacks brimmed with Kindle eReaders. Our goal: create an electronic library at SOPUDEP, sister school to Los Altos High. If we succeeded, students who had just a few dusty books on the shelves of their school library would suddenly have access to millions of digital books via the Internet.
To our relief, the notoriously predatory customs agents were completely disinterested. Within minutes, we were out in the blazing sun with Dol, on our way to SOPUDEP.
My family’s nonprofit organization had spent 18 months figuring out how to make eReader-based learning work in a place with unreliable electric power and nearly nonexistent Wi-Fi. We conducted a field trial with Kindles in Haiti, proving that SOPUDEP could download any eBook available from the Internet. Generous donors provided the dozens of Kindles needed. We loaded hundreds of French eBooks onto each and every eReader for Dol’s eager students.
During those months of preparation, we met many Los Altos residents who worked hard to help SOPUDEP. We became a sponsored organization of the team at the Los Altos Community Foundation, giving us a way to accept tax-deductible donations. We worked closely with Seth Donnelly’s Haiti Solidarity Club at Los Altos High, as well as the Rotary Club of Los Altos, which runs sustainable technology programs at SOPUDEP.
We stood in front of 30 students at SOPUDEP March 16. They had volunteered their Saturday morning to become the Kindle experts who then would teach their 700 fellow students how to use the new technology.
I have taught enough classrooms full of children to know the feeling that comes 10 minutes into a session, when you ask yourself: “Are they getting this? Why aren’t they saying anything?”
The answer came quickly, ending an awkward silence, as one of the students said, “Hey, I figured out how to do a search by author that’s really fast – look at this!” I knew then that the session would be a success. These members in good standing of the smartphone generation would be eReader experts in no time. Minutes later, they were reading “Le Petit Prince” and “The Hunger Games” on their new Kindles.
Real progress was clear after two days. For the first time, a SOPUDEP classroom had a full and consistent set of electronic teaching materials in the hands of every student. Teachers downloaded several new eBooks of their choosing and were teaching two new classes via the Kindles.
Of course, the real question with an initiative like this is whether it will make a significant and sustainable difference. Will students get a better education, leading to better things for Haiti? Time will tell, and we plan to return to SOPUDEP, working with Dol’s team to perfect their electronic library.
Our short visit to Haiti was ending, and as Dol drove us to the airport, she summed it up: “I thank you for this beautiful moment with us in Haiti. Your visit warmed our hearts. Thanks to you both, and to all of the donors who made this noble gesture to us. Truly, we are the only school in Haiti to have access to this new technology. May God bless you.”
Consider becoming a Books for Haiti donor. Every dollar contributed goes toward the purchase of an eReader or eBooks. My family pays all the overhead costs, so you as a donor know that your donation is used with 100 percent efficiency to change the lives of students in Haiti.
To donate or for more information, visit www.booksforhaiti.com.