Using Technology to Power the Thomas Food Project: An Interview with James Lazarre

JamesLazarreJames Lazarre is project manager for the Thomas Food Project (TFP), in Thomas, Haiti. A minister with a degree in computer science, James oversees the day-to-day logistics for TFP and manages the school’s new computer center. TFP is supported by The United Methodist Church-California-Nevada Annual Conference, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) and United Methodist Communications (UMCom).

Q: What is your role with the Thomas Food Project, and what does the project do?

A: I am the project manager for the Thomas Food Project, which provides an educational environment and a hot lunch program to feed kids in the Thomas community. We have a computer lab that just opened in June. We are using the computers to transform from a chalkboard-based learning environment to one that uses technology to improve education in the school.

Our goal with the computer center is to build computer skills in the community. When we started, only about 20% of the tChildreneachers in Thomas knew how to use a computer. So we trained the teachers to be able to use computers as part of their teaching. We also have classes to teach school children. And after 12:30, when school ends, we open the computer center to other members of the community.

Q: What kinds of classes does the computer center offer?

A: We offer several classes, including specific classes for girls, and for women looking to build skills that can help them earn money. We have ten computers right now, and we have different sessions throughout the day with ten to twenty people in each session. The whole community can get information and learn something.

Q:  What kinds of technology is the Thomas Food Project using?

First, we’re using a solar system so that we don’t have to buy fuel every day to run a generator. This powers the entire school, including the computer center. In our church, we used to spend money every day just to buy fuel. With the solar panels we don’t have to do that.

SolarSecond we are using low power computers. This means we can keep the computer center open and work all day. This saves us money, which means we can offer more and more services.

Q: What challenges have you found associated with using technology in the computer center?

A: When we identified that we wanted to install computer lab, I made a survey and talked to the community about our plan. Less than 20 people I talked to knew how to use a computer, so that’s our biggest challenge.

Most people in the community, about 90%, have a cell phone. But many of them use it just for voice calls or to send text messages. Kids sometimes know how to use a tablet or a cell phone, but many have never used a mouse.

So we have to reinforce basic computer skills in the community. We’re training the teachers so that they will be able to teach the kids. We offer classes to the community. And we provide services to the community, including web access, printing, scanning, and copying.

Q:  Have you heard any of the school children or community members talk about what it’s like to have access to a computer?

A: The kids are so excited about the computers. When I was teaching one girl said to me the other day, “I’m six years old and I can use the computer! When I go home to tell my brothers, they don’t even know what a computer is.”

children3The kids are using computers to research things they are learning in school. They are incredibly enthusiastic to participate in computer classes. They could spend the whole day there. Next year the Thomas school will teach most of its classes in the computer lab. It’s an easy way to teach the kids.


Q: What is your vision for the future?

A: We believe this basic computer literacy will have a big impact on the community. People who previously did not know anything about computers can come to use them to gain access to information and services.

We’d like to use the computer center to help the community build professional skills that they can use to develop into economic opportunities. So we’re putting together a business plan to support more job training.

People want to use technology. And for us this is an important way to serve the community. Any time we can receive support to be able to offer technology services, it is great thing to help us build opportunities. We welcome new partners or friends to help us to join us in this effort.

The TFP computer center is being maintained by Haicom, an Inveneo-certified local partner.

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