As part of Microsoft Learning's year-long 20 Years | 20 Ways campaign to recognize the history of the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification, we now have the opportunity to support NetHope. This NGO is all about geeks like us! For a long time, I was impressed by and envious of the doctors donating their time to Médecins sans Frontières. (Doctors without Borders). However, how could my computer skills help those truly in need? I could not save a life or change someone's future like those doctors could...
Then, in 2007, in the first MCT Summit in Zurich, Ken Rosen brought Sandra Wright to present about NetHope. I invite you to read the NetHope website, but to make a long story short, this NGO was started on the idea of pooling the IT resources and needs of multiple NGOs together (outsourcing IT? I am sure you have heard of that...). Microsoft gave a lot of products and help, and now, they were looking for MCTs to train NetHope members' staff on those products. While this was being presented, I distinctly remember sliding forward on my chair so that I could jump out of it at the end and be the first one at their desk to register (Surprise to me, the entire room did not try to beat me to it...). A few months later, I was in Kenya for three weeks, training CRS staffers on ISA Server and Exchange.
In 2010, NetHope came back to ask if I was interested to help out again: They were expanding beyond the IT needs of their members and putting in place a program to get young motivated individuals in disaster areas or developing countries trained, certified and experienced on IT skills. Not only those countries desperately need those skills and are short on venues to acquire them, but they could provide a good earning in areas ravaged by unemployment. Simply put, the idea was to train young students on Windows client support skills, get them certified (MCDST in my case, later on, MCTS on Windows 7) and then have them complete a six-month internship with one of the NetHope member NGOs under the supervision of a mentor.
So in September 2010, I was landing in Haiti to deliver two weeks of MCDST training following on the footsteps of MSL's legend Ken Rosen, who had gone there a few months earlier to define the program and had gotten the food poisoning to prove it . In the same vein, I was informed that Lisa Obradovich who was supposed to orient me down in Port-au-Prince had been urgently shipped back to the States with an acute case of dengue fever: I started to wonder what vaccination I needed for Haiti... having just landed there . The remarkable Frank Schott (a 2010 Microsoft Alumni Fellow), whose project this was, ended up setting me up (and, yes, he too caught a bug to prove it...).
This video shows the state of ESIH, the school were I taught, after the earthquake. My fantastic students (Jude, whom the video follows, made it his mission to teach me some Créole: Sak pasé, Jude ) surpassed great difficulties to come there every day, walking from wherever they were staying to arrive very early and be actively engaged during the day. The conditions were...er...spartan, but they always beamed a smile and had a good question (or a joke, or a tease...).
This is all the more impressive when you think that for a lot of us, Haiti is a country that suffered a disaster on January 12th, 2010. That is not the case: This has been a land of tears nearly since its beginnings and it suffices to read on a place like Cité Soleil (Sun City, if you can believe the cruelty of such a name...) to understand the challenges that Haitians have been facing all their lives...to then be hit by a terrible earthquake. You also have to understand that I was there nine months after the earthquake and do not remember seeing more than a couple of cranes, but plenty of destroyed houses, with thousands living under tarps (you can't call them tents) and queueing for water (Yet, Ken told me it was much better already then when he was there!)
Those of you who have talked to me after my trip know how much this was an experience for me and how grateful I am for the opportunity. Let me be honest: Within a few days of landing, the thing I wanted most was to be back home, enjoying a hot bath (as there was no hot water in the place we stayed) and enjoying the benefits of electricity without a generator waking me in the middle of the night! Computing was also "interesting" with my USB drive (with the class VMs) coming back to me with half a dozen viruses after passing it around my students, Unix laptops to run the VMs on, an Internet connection that never really materialized (nor did the course manuals, as a matter of fact...) and having to rely on a generator (and a spider web of electrical cables) to run our class. Still, on the third day, as Frank and I were try to solve yet another problem, I looked at him and said: "This is fun!": He gave me a very worried look...
As far as I am concerned, more than the class, certifications, etc... the measure of the success of the NetHope Academy is explained in Frank's post, stating that the average salary of a NetHope Academy graduate is $14,000.- when the average GDP average salary of Haitians is just $1,900.-! That means that they earn enough money not only to assure their own livelihood, but also that of their families! This is the kind of results that can help a country put itself back on its feet. I could not be prouder of my students.
Still the program did not stop with my students. Andrew Bettany took the initiative to convince NetHope and Microsoft Learning to run a Train-the-Trainer in Haiti so that the NetHope Academy will one day be delivered by local Haitian trainers. This is typical of my fellow MCT Advisory Council member and initiator of so many MCT events. In 2011, I was unable to go to Haiti to deliver the NetHope Academy courses, so Mark Wheatley delivered a brand new program, now covering Windows 7. And guess what? Some of Andrew's students were there to assist as guest trainers and lab help! Andrew, Mark and I have been helping NetHope to adapt the Academy program as it is expanded to other parts of the world!
So now it is your turn. As we are moving to employing local talent as much as possible, there will not be opportunities to help directly in the field as the three of us had the chance to do (you should have jumped out of your chair sooner in Zurich ). We have suggested to NetHope that some experienced trainers might act as eMentors to some of the local trainers, but in the meantime you can support NetHope and donate (generously!) to a cause that is OUR cause. This one is for us: We are convinced IT can help the world, this can prove it. Let us support it!
As a final world, I would like to invite you to view a video about Emmanuella Stimphat, a student of both Andrew and myself, and see what your help can achieve. Please notice also in the video Marlene Sam who was incredible during my stay in organizing the program and also Rohan Mahy, my roommate, whom Emmanuella now works with at Inveneo: A real NGO junkie and true McGyver, at home in the most forsaken places in this planet!
Great post, Marc! I was involved myself volunteering for NetHope in 2007, delivering a Windows Server & Exchange bootcamp in Thailand for IT people from humanitarian agencies. Great experience - It was amazing for me to see atteendees from so many countries in the same classroom! Two years ago I delivered a symilar training in Cambodia for CRS - I was very happy to meet again there very talented and motivated people.
Marc, After a long day of writing proposals for NetHope Academy projects in South Sudan, I am reading your post. You have brought tears to my eyes just as I am closing my laptop (great memories tears!!). Thank you. And thank you to Ken, Mark, Andrew, Opokua, Lisa, Krista, Lutz, Deb, Lori, Steph, Eddie, Alison, Marlene, Patrick, SQL Soft, Microsoft, Cisco, Accenture and many other Microsoft Learning folks working beind the scenes that have helped make this happen.
Good to "read" you! I hope to see you (and your family) at TechEd Europe and/or the MCT Summit later this year. I remember we had a chance to talk together and also with Andrea (Anders) Pistaceci (who did the same thing in South America in 2007) about what a great experience we all had back then. Haiti was more difficult but also much more rewarding an experience. NetHope is a fantastic opportunity for geeks like us to give back and share our interest.
South Sudan? When is my flight? I'll go shopping today for a bulletproof vest! ;-)
Joke aside, your team (and you in particular) are the one I am to be grateful to, for the fantastic experience. Not something I would have the courage to do every day (like you do...), but you know that I have been trying to get back in the field with NetHope since I returned.
In my post (which was already quite long) I did not have the space to talk about the incredible work people of NGOs such as NetHope are doing everywhere. In our own little corner, I was impressed not only by the NetHope team but also by the young men and women of Architecture for Humanity whith whom we shared the house: While I was there for a couple of weeks, they where donating a full five months of their lives to this! And I already mentioned Rohan Mahy (the only one that truly looked comfortable in this environment!) from Inveneo.
Again, I only did a couple of weeks in Haiti: You must have spent months, and that is only one of your projects. South Sudan? Wow!
Marc, appreciate your post.
Bravo Marc. Ton initiative force le respect.
Thanks, kind words. But it was not my initiative: I just traded some of my time for a free ticket and two weeks in the Caribbean ;-) Joke aside, it is the people of NetHope and the other NGOs who are the examples to steer by.
As a friend, you know that I came back telling everyone that if you have kids, you owe it to their character to have them participate at least once in such a program. If I could learn so much from the experience about real hardship and the need to help in my late forties, imagine how much a teenager can benefit from it.
We are absorbed in our day-to-day lives, but seeing this level of despair “remet l’église au milieu du village” and makes it clear that there are no easy (or cheap) solution ...Yeap, the current campaigning in both the States and France is influencing my remark :-(
Brilliant initiative! Simply incredible what you get up do when you are not delivering IT Trainings in Switzerland!