Habele installing computer lab on Pohnpei

Habele, a US-based charity, has inaugurated a computer science education program on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. With the financial assistance of donors Barbara and Ray Dalio, Habele has begun shipping computers, software, and related accessories to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School in Pohnpei.

The charity is working closely with Sr. Isabel Seman at Our Lady of Mercy to build the most appropriate computer lab possible for the school’s needs.

“The idea is to teach students the information technology skills they will need the rest of their lives,” said Neil Mellen, a director of Habele. “The twenty-first century is going to be online, and high school students in Micronesia need to start preparing for that reality now.”

Habele has sent the school Mac computers, monitors, peripherals, and the most common commercial software applications students will encounter. The choice of Macs rather than PCs will help familiarize Our Lady of Mercy students with the types of computers used at most of the higher education institutions in the western Pacific, assisting students with the often-difficult transition from high school to university.

Habele aims to provide the school with a total computer package: all the equipment needed to set up a first-rate lab, plus assistance with the installation.

“So often in the past, Micronesia has seen poorly-targeted or poorly-implemented aid projects,” said Mellen. “Our donation to Our Lady of Mercy is different. These are exact computer systems the students need, and we’re sending out a local technician in October to make sure it all runs smoothly.”

Habele board members and volunteers will also conduct periodic site visits to work with the school on its computer science program.

Since 2006, Habele has provided scholarships to K-12 students in Micronesia to attend private schools in the country such as Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High. The scholarship program has provided access to classroom education for dozens of low-income students annually, but now the charity wants to increase access to computer training as well.

“The traditional student skills—your reading, writing, and arithmetic, if you will—are still an important part of our mission,” said Mellen. “But we’re realizing more and more that students need fluency with computers and the internet as well if they’re to be full participants in the twenty-first century.”

Due to its remote location, Micronesia has historically lagged behind other countries in terms of access to information technology. Habele aims to change that on Pohnpei.

“Students around the world have a natural interest in computers. Micronesian students are no different. The stumbling block in Micronesia has been access to top-of-the-line equipment, and we’re grateful to the Dalio family for their help in rectifying that lack in Pohnpei,” said Mellen.

With its focus on local partnering and targeted education, the Habele-funded computer lab is the first of its kind in Micronesia, and is different from previous efforts to bring computers to the islands—efforts that have sometimes been less than successful due to insufficient cooperation with local schools or bureaucratic encumbrance.

“No more used computers showing up in boxes, unannounced and unsupported,” said Mellen. “That’s not how Habele operates. We’ve identified a need, and we’ve worked out a program to address it directly. We’re not part of the US aid program, we’re not part of the FSM government. This is a hands-on, results-oriented approach to education assistance.”

Habele was founded by former volunteer teachers to fill in gaps left by the US-funded public education system in Micronesia. With its focus on direct assistance and its close monitoring of education outcomes, Habele operates with an efficiency that government programs often lack.

Those interested in supporting Habele’s efforts can learn more online at www.habele.org.