Connecting with Haiti: Local prof uses old BlackBerrys to help Haitian principals

WATERLOO — Wondering what to do with your old BlackBerry?

Steve Sider has a plan for it. The assistant professor in the faculty of education at Wilfrid Laurier University plans to take used BlackBerrys to Haiti next month and give them to school principals there.

The smartphones will be used by the principals to communicate with each other in various school districts and will allow administrators in Haiti to keep in contact with Sider and other educators here.

“The principals have a desire to see change in their population. An educated population will see development socially, economically and politically,” Sider said.

“They have a vision and the passion. They are just lacking the training,” he said.

Sider, along with four recent grads, two local teachers and two Education Ministry employees, will visit Cap-Haitien, Haiti, for 10 days in May.

Sider hopes the digital mentoring project will expand to include local tech experts who could go to Haiti and develop educational videos for principals and teachers.

Some of the 10-minute videos in French or Creole could help teachers increase numeracy with young children by using stones, he said.

“We want to develop online tools that they can access, dedicated resources that make sense for them,” he said.

Sider said smartphones are more practical than computers because electricity is rarely reliable, but cellphone towers are all over the country.

Sider visited the northern part of Haiti 10 years ago and began working with principals, providing training and workshops for administrators and helping solve problems. The principals were looking for help in developing curriculum and most had no formal training in leading schools.

The smartphone project began last year when BlackBerry donated five smartphones. Sider received a startup grant from Laurier for $6,000 and hopes to access other funding to expand the project to include more school districts.

“This is making real, dramatic improvement,” he said.

“They are using more engaging techniques with nuts and stones as opposed to standing before the classroom and going over three times three,” he said.

Teachers are being more creative rather than relying on what they’ve done in the past, Sider said. “I love it because you see the difference you are making and the potential there.”

For more information on the project go to Sider’s blog:

While he’s in Haiti, people can follow Sider on Twitter at #laurierhaiti2013

To donate a used BlackBerry, contact Sider at


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