The dust has settled since the first few volunteers have returned from Haiti and it’s time for an update on our progress. After months of preparations, conference calls and equipment gathering our first team departed for Haiti on Saturday April 3rd. Three volunteers flew from Shannon, Ireland via Newark to Ft. Lauderdale where they were joined by a fourth volunteer who had flown in from NYC the previous day. We were booked into a motel in Deerfield Beach only a short distance from the ayard where our staging facility was. We had originally planned to stay in Deerfield for 4 days before flying onwards to Haiti. However due to hiccups beyond our control we did not leave for Haiti until April 11th. The transport that we had been assured would be available fell through and we ended up having to arrange sea transport for the equipment and seperate flights for the volunteers. As we did not really have the budget to pay commercial rates we had to work our network of contacts to find someone willing to provide transport and to pick up the tab. Luckily we found both the Bridge Foundation willing to provide sea-transport for our equipment and Airline Ambassadors to provide flights for a very minimal fee. Organisations like these are hardly ever heard from but they provide an invaluable service. While we were very happy to have this arranged the whole thing costs us a lot of time. You can read more about it here.

We shared a plane with a group of volunteer medical staff who were going to work at the University of Miami field hospital beside the airport. It was great to see how these people had (just like our volunteers) dropped everything to help the people in Haiti. We were met in the airport by our driver and security guard who brought us to the vehicle and whisked us of to our accommodation. Now we were lucky in that we had been offered to use of a 4-bedroom house by the GLOW mission. The house was north of Port au Prince and the fact that we only had to pay a few hundred dollars per month for electricity made a welcome difference from the $4000 average house rental price in Port au Prince. The location of the house also meant that the environment was safer and quieter than the capital city which allowed us to relax and rest a bit in the evening. As comfortable as the house was according to Haitian standards it was still relatively primitive. Electricity was on and off and running water wasn’t always there when one needed it. But we weren’t complaining. We were living in far better circumstances than most people on the island.

The next 10 days were filled with meetings with all kinds of people from different levels of society. We met with people in the Haitian government, people running community projects and missions and people living in the poorest areas of Haiti. We firmed up on discussion and negotiations that were started in the previous months and we plotted the first series of links that we will be building. We experienced the local cuisine and got many first hand, in your face impressions of the poverty that a lot of Haitian people live in and of the devastation caused by the earthquake. But we also learned first hand what a vibrant country Haiti is and how proud the people of Haiti are in spite of years of setbacks and living on the edge of society.

So what, in concrete terms, have we achieved so far? We were in Haiti for 10 days. In those 10 days we had meetings with the countries large Telecoms Company, several local (Haitian) charities and community projects and were introduced to several people in the Haitian government. We also plotted several of the links, placed some equipment, made arrangements for further trips. Most of the trip was spent making on-the-ground arrangements for future teams arriving as well as the physical preparation of all the links. Due to our equipment being delayed we ended up spending more time planning and preparing which in the end worked out to be a blessing. However we installed one link between buildings owned by one of the missions but did a lot of link-planning and preparation. This work is necessary before any equipment can be installed and needs to be done on-site. We also started work on a link between the University of Miami field hospital and the nearby UN base.

We shipped a wide variety of equipment to Haiti. The 60ft shipping container was packed with a large quantity of wireless equipment, camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, mats, water-filters, camping stoves etc.) and medical equipment. Most of the Medical and Camping equipment is being donated to Haitians in need. We also shipped a 60KW diesel generator. Use of the generator will be shared with other organisations in Haiti who have indicated they do not have a sufficient power supply.

So what did it all cost and how was it funded? At the start of the “Haiti Connect” project we set the sum of $365,000 as a fundraising target. It would cover ALL costs to have 10 people working in Haiti for a minimum of 6 months. However we as we went along we learned that a large team of 10 people was surplus to requirements. Smaller teams of 5 people working with locals would be much more efficient. This would also lower the overall costs significantly. Prior to this trip we raised cash donations of just over 4000 euro. The cost of our work so far has been well in excess of 10,000 euro. The difference between the two has been paid out of personal funds. We also received equipment donations from a wide range of companies (Aruba Networks, Xirrus, OpenMesh, Cascade Designs, WiPipe, Fidelity Engineering, Sterling ropes and Tesco Nenagh) the estimated value to these equipment donations are $200,000.

Before we departed for Haiti and since we returned there is one question that we are asked time and time again: “Does Haiti really need wifi?”. Well we can now answer that question with absolute certainty. WiFi is the fastest, and most affordable way to bring Internet access to hospitals, orphanages, camps etc. in Haiti. Internet access means communication, information exchange and access to education. Not a single person we have met in Haiti, ranging from people in camps to entrepreneurs and people in the Haitian government were of a different opinion. Our work has been welcomed with open arms.

I would also like to point out that our work is indeed no longer just “disaster relief”, this was the original plan but the scope of the project has grown to long term infra-structure rebuilding and improvement. We have been asked by the Haitian government to submit detailed proposals and have also been invited by the US State Department to participate in a “Haiti Technology Forum” to discuss the use of technology (such as wifi) to rebuild and improve Haiti.

But this is only a small step on a long road Haiti Connect will be active in Haiti for at least the next 6 months. We will be sending out more volunteers, shipping more equipment and providing more help. Our hope is that our work will help the people of Haiti have a chance of a better future. However this work generates costs, while we have already received very generous donations we will need more to cover such expenses as travel, food, transport etc. None of our volunteers receive any compensation for their work other than a sense of doing something good. This means that the largest chunk of our spending is done in Haiti where it will bring a small bit of money back into the local economy. If you want to help us as are willing to make a donation you can do so online using the button below or by going here.