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Google, Skype Offer Free Haiti Calls

An Aid Worker's First-Hand Account of Haiti's Enormous Technical Challenges

Yesterday Google announced that they will offer free calls to Haiti through Google Voice to help connect Haitians with their families in other locations. before that day, Skype announced that they it would be emailing vouchers for $2 of Skype credit to its users in Haiti.

a UN Foundation worker told yesterday afternoon that the communication systems in Haiti were essentially unusable. It appears that the two companies have just joined the category of “awfully nice, generous, but somewhat impractical” ideas.

Ingrid Madden from the U.N. Foundation told that communication systems in Haiti were essentially unusable. “The only ones on our staff who have been able to make phone calls have satellite phones,” she said. “Even electricity is really hard to come by.”

She also told that they have teams on the ground trying to set up satellite communications systems.

Pierre Petry is a World Food Program senior ICT specialist. He’s currently positioned in Haiti, and has passed along his first-hand experiences trying to help a country with virtually no telecom infrastructure left in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

An Aid Worker's First-Hand Account of Haiti's Enormous Technical Challenges

I was in Cap-Haitien sub office located in the north of the country giving the “GVLP Driver Training” when we felt the earthquake for about 15 seconds. Everybody rushed outside the old building.

Some minutes later, we learned that Port-au-Prince was badly hit by an earthquake. We tried to contact the WFP country office by FoodSat phone, mobile phone and landlines without any success. Finally we got in touch with the HF radio on 3.xxx Mhz.

The Port-au-Prince VSAT is out of order, the landlines and GSM phones are dead. Port-au-Prince (PaP) Country Office can not be reached anymore even by e-mail or LotusNotes as the FoodSat is probably damaged.

The following day I travelled from Cap-Haitien to PaP, but the WFP security officer denied me and my driver access to the capital. So we drove back to Gonaives sub-office.

Fortunately in Gonaives I found an unused iDirect BitSat. It was used for the Inter Agency cybercafe in 2008 during the “Ike cyclone” emergency. It was installed in the MINUSTAH base. With the help of local staff we took down the antenna and the router, loaded the equipment on an old M6 truck and got the security clearance for PaP. Now we are ready to go tomorrow morning to PaP with an MINUSTAH military escort.

For more information on how to help, the U.N. Foundation has issued a call for donations or you can visit their page directly.

Source: readwriteweb.com, gizmodo.com, undispatch.com

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