By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Since his first visit to Haiti in 2006, Gary Boice has been committed to helping Haitian people climb their way out of poverty. And he’s done more than lament their fate — he’s taken steps to help.
Boice operates a program called Tek4Kids at several schools in Haiti where he provides computer education.
Boice first went to Jérémie, Haiti, with a group of volunteers from the Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is a member. There he and the group installed water purification systems and provided food at the Haitian sister parish of St. Louis Cathedral, Boice said in an interview last month.
After two more visits in 2008 and 2009, Boice and his wife, Cathy, decided they wanted to commit to a more longtime project in Haiti. He said he was particularly affected by the condition of the schools.
He soon discovered that the education system, in most areas, was deplorable, particularly in the younger grades.
“The average school in Jérémie does not have books or electricity,” Boice said noting that Jérémie is often considered one of the poorer regions in Haiti (itself already considered the poorest nation in the Americas).
Boice, a 1962 graduate of St. Xavier High School, planned to use his expertise in networking and computers to implement a technology program through the use of laptops. He worked for IBM for 30 years and has owned and operated boice.net since 1994.
Instead of simply installing a classroom full of computers and leaving, he wanted to create an infrastructure that would lead to continued success in the Haitian schools.
The first step toward this success, he said, is installing a water pump to insure students and families have access to clean, safe drinking water. Basic electricity is also necessary. Some schools where the program is implemented have basic service. And power has been improvised in other schools using such things as golf-cart batteries.
It’s also crucial to gain the respect and cooperation of the schools’ staff, Tanja Berger, a Tek4Kids volunteer and Bellarmine University student, said.
Students at six schools are now receiving a basic curriculum of typing and an introduction to Microsoft Word, which Boice said he hopes will aid the students when they look for jobs.
Boice said he believes his educational approach with technology is beneficial to the Haitians because it’s empowered them to take ownership of the program.
“I really believe education is what’s going to change Haiti. This can produce civic and business leaders who can redirect Haiti toward a better path,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Tek4Kids program implemented an iPad initiative for younger grades. Instead of relying on traditional textbooks, which are costly and hard to come by, students
are able to participate in hands-on activities and hear proper pronunciation during language study by using the technology of the iPad, Boice said. He hopes to train several teachers
to travel between the elementary schools in order to optimize the number of students being exposed to the iPad.
He has encountered some people who question the feasibility of the program and say it can’t work.
“Some say it’s Haiti — it can’t be done. But, I’ve been on the board at Nativity Academy. I’ve watched kids break down barriers and have success. It gives me hope,” he said.
Boice is a third order Franciscan with the Conventual Franciscan Friars at Mt. St. Francis in Southern Indiana. The third order is a lay community of men and women who share St. Francis of Assisi’s concern for the poor, the well-being of the Earth and the marginalized.
“I felt liked I was led there (to Haiti) by one thing after another. I’m happier now than I ever have been because I’m doing what God wants me to do,” he said.
Boice returns to Haiti seven or eight times a year for two to three weeks at a time to oversee and monitor the progress of projects.
Tek4Kids has expanded to include six schools — St. Therese Montessori, Brother Paulin School, St. Louis High School, St. Jean Bosco, St. Louis Garden and St. Louis of Montfort.
Currently there are 100 laptops and 80 iPads in use by the students. And, more than 2,000 people have access to clean water.
In the fall, Boice plans to bring several Haitian principals and teachers to the U.S. to attend a seminar on education at Bellarmine University.
Boice also plans to open a technical school where students can take more advanced computer classes. He also hopes to set up a job placement program.
Until now, Boice and his wife have funded the majority of the Tek4Kids initiatives and continue to cover 95% of all overhead costs (including hiring staff to maintain the water purification systems at all times). Because of this, he said, every cent of every dollar donated is spent in Haiti.
“We would love to have schools and parishes join our ambassador program” where they can sponsor a school or program within a school, he said. For example, a school could start by sponsoring electricity for a Haitian elementary school.
“The idea is to have different sizes of projects” so all types of groups could take part, he said.
Boice will hold an information meeting at the Tek4Kids office, 418 E. Main Street in New Albany, Ind., for those interested in learning more about the program on July 29 at 7 p.m.
To learn more about the program, volunteer or donate, visit tek4kids.org.