3BL Media

3BL Media

Microsoft and NGOs helping Haiti recover through technology

Source: 3BL Media

The day last year when the earth violently shook his country and the lives of millions of his fellow Haitians to pieces, Jude Antenor was late for school.

The master's degree student at La Ecole Supérieure d'Infotronique d'Haìti (ESIH) was still at home when the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake caused his school to collapse, killing some of his fellow students and leaving him highly uncertain about both his own future and the future of Haiti.

A year later, his country is still in a state of crisis, according to analysis by the United Nations. More than 1 million people are homeless and without shelter, cholera and other health problems run rampant, and there are significant political tensions brewing from recent elections.

But the year has also brought remarkable collaboration, innovation and hope, as Microsoft and a record number of organizations from around the world work to help Haiti recover and to 'build the country back better than it was,' said Claire Bonilla, Microsoft's senior director of Business Continuity and Disaster Response.

Antenor's school is being rebuilt, and he is working as an intern through the NetHope Academy, a new Microsoft-supported program that gives Haitians technology training that they can use to get IT jobs helping the organizations that are working to rebuild the country.

'I want to see a better Haiti in the future,' Antenor said. 'We want people all over the world to help us improve the education in Haiti because you know that education is the key that opens all the doors. With a little bit of coaching and access to more resources . . . I think that the younger generation can have a big impact in the world.'

Rising to the Challenge

It's been a year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, reducing many areas to ruins and destroying homes, hospitals, schools and government buildings in the already-poor country. An estimated 222,570 people were killed in the earthquake and in the days that followed. More than 1 million people were displaced and are still homeless or without shelter.

On the day of the earthquake, Microsoft activated its disaster response team and immediately started coordinating short-term and long-term support for Haiti, Bonilla said. The team remained involved as the needs in Haiti evolved from emergency response to rebuilding.

'This has been heralded as probably the most devastating event of the century,' Bonilla said. 'We knew it would take a global community of international players to respond in a cohesive and coordinated fashion.'

One of the first orders of business was to partner with NetHope, a nonprofit organization specializing in solving technology problems, to build a wireless 'Internet backbone' that the government, intergovernmental agencies (such as the United Nations), and nongovernmental agencies could use to coordinate disaster relief.

'Though some people estimate the earthquake set the country back 70 years, within weeks Haiti had a more robust IT infrastructure than the country had ever seen,' Bonilla said.

In the first two months after the earthquake, Microsoft helped launch OneResponse, a website for interagency collaboration; deployed cloud-computing solutions for Haiti's government and for organizations working in the country; had Bing and MSN set up pages where people could donate to Haiti; and had the Microsoft Translator team add Haitian Creole to the translator's languages so that it could be used by aid workers.

Microsoft employees found unique ways to apply their expertise and to collaborate inside and outside the company to help rebuild Haiti 'and hopefully catapult it into a higher level of maturity as a society by infusing it with technology and the benefits it can provide,' Bonilla said.

When Bonilla and other members of the disaster relief team visited Haiti in May to perform a technology assessment, roads to outlying villages had just been cleared to allow nonprofits to begin setting up formal satellite help centers in heavily devastated areas five months later.

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