Project helps 6 Haiti schools go solar

Six schools in Thomas, Haiti, have solar power plants, computers and water purifiers, thanks to a five-year effort by volunteer-in-mission teams led by Warren McGuffin and supported by the United Methodist California-Nevada Conference.

The schools, in turn, now serve 10,000 lunches each month, lunches that pay expenses for the school.

McGuffin, who calls himself a “humanitarian capitalist,” has taken a holistic approach in Haiti aimed at nurturing the body, mind and soul.

Volunteer teams who share their gifts and talents benefit the whole Thomas community, not just the students and faculty, he said.

GAME CHANGERS 2015

Learn more about how technological innovations are changing relief and development work at Game Changers 2015, Sept. 17-19 in Nashville.

Learning from research

United Methodist Communications’ ICT4D Church Initiatives commissioned research on the Thomas Food Project to measure its impact and share findings with other groups interested in beginning rural edu-tech programs. ICT4D stands for information and communications technologies for development.

The research was conducted by the American Institutes of Research and by Apostolos Kalantzis, as part of his fieldwork for Emory University’s Master’s in Development Practice program. Carla Roncoli, the program associate director, supervised the research.

Focusing on the Thomas Methodist School and School of Hope, researchers interviewed principals, teachers, parents, students and additional members of the community over a seven-week period.

In its executive summary, the report stated: “An important issue is that the solar-power infrastructure at participating schools suffers from technological limitations, which make it impossible for the computing facilities to be fully utilized in order to realize the potential of technology-enhanced learning.”

Those findings did not surprise McGuffin, who received a Bishop's Award in 2014 by Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., who leads the California-Nevada Conference.

“It is important to realize that technology is not the total answer,” he said. The research focused not just on the technology but also provided insight into what the programs are doing and how effective they are, he added.

“The white paper by the American Institutes of Research gave us a picture of our project strengths and weaknesses,” McGuffin explained. “We have expanded to 10 more computers at each school based on the research.”

Having a champion

One important feature at each of the schools is a “champion” who keeps an eye on the technology to continue training new people and keep the equipment running.

“Faculty training and reinforcement is of vital importance,” he said. “Our in-country staff does this every day.”

In a report to his “church family,” McGuffin said the Thomas Project now has a full-time Haitian staff of cooks and project management. Facilities have grown from one kitchen to two, with new stoves and ovens.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission have provided assistance, he said. A group of United Methodist Women made more than 1,000 dresses and shorts for the students.

James Lazarre is head of the Thomas School in Haiti and travels with McGuffin to speak at panels and summits on applied technology in developing countries.

McGuffin’s stake in this technology is firmly planted.

“The installations of the computer labs are now able to deliver 21st century educational tools for the poorest schools in our hemisphere,” he said. “The water-purification equipment installed builds a healthier environment. The solar street lights provide not only a safer place for students to study but also allow evening social activity.”

Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter in Nashville. Contact her at newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5470.

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