Haiti’s High-Tech Revolution

From the city to the mountain, one tablet bridges two worlds

Worlds Apart

A bright, sterile technology factory; a rural community nestled in the mountains.

White uniforms, electrical wiring and quickly working fingers; rocky soil, wispy clouds and familiar faces.

Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince and Robin, a small mountaintop community outside Fermathe, in the department of Ouest, are only about an hour’s drive apart.

But in many ways, the two seem to exist in different worlds.

What is the link between Joab Sanon, a quality manager at the sleek Port-au-Prince Surtab factory, and Ketcia Orilius, a community health worker in rural Robin?

This tablet.

Ten inches of handheld processing power—similar to an iPad but around six times cheaper and made by and for Haitians.

Joab works at Surtab helping to make these tablets. Every month, the factory where he works makes over 3,000 and ships them out to businesses, educational institutions and health care facilities.

Employee at manufacturing facility testing a tablet computing device.

And the jobs are some of the best around.

Three employees working on assembling tablet computing devices at a manufacturing facility.

Triple the minimum wage

At Surtab, Joab and around 50 other employees—mostly women—are paid triple the minimum wage. They have health benefits and ample opportunities for professional growth. They get plenty of training to help them do their jobs. And though this may not be rare in some countries, in Haiti the model is unique.

Surtab, which was established in 2013 with funding from USAID, has been a boost to the technology sector in this Caribbean island nation. And Joab says the company is a way to put Haitian industry back on the map.

Employee inspecting tablet at factory.

Not only has Surtab created a quality product and a highly skilled workforce, but its tablets are also improving the lives of everyday Haitians.

One has made its way into Ketcia’s hands and is now being used to care for her community.

Woman with baby in lap. The baby is being examined by a doctor.

Ketcia is 37 years old and was born and raised in Robin.

She has worked as a community health worker since 2010—the year a USAID program came to Robin looking for someone to train for the position—someone hard-working, trusted, kind and smart.

Since then, she has become a focal point of her community: With a cooler of vaccines on her arm, she travels the countryside to counsel pregnant women, care for babies and teach her neighbors about healthy, life-saving behaviors.

It is no small task. Although Robin has 9,000 residents, there are just five health workers serving them all.

In the morning, Ketcia arrives at the health clinic where she works and grabs her bag for the day, making sure to include the Surtab tablet USAID has provided her.

Because Ketcia’s community is so spread out, many people struggle to reach a clinic. For baby-toting mothers and for the sick, pregnant or infirm, a visit might require walking for more than an hour or scrambling up steep paths.

So instead of waiting for patients to come to her, Ketcia goes to them.

“I’m helping people.”

Every day, she makes 10 or more home visits, checking in on women and children and bringing them the health care they need.

She goes by foot, running into friends and passing stunning mountain views along the way. She does it when she’s tired; she does it when it rains; she does it when the miles start to feel long—she does it because it makes a difference.

“Since I started this work, I’ve never had a bad day,” Ketcia says. “My days have all been good. I’m helping people.”

Ketcia asks the moms how they are and about their children. She weighs the kids and gives them the shots that will protect them from diphtheria, tuberculosis, polio and meningitis.

She talks to the moms about nutrition, family planning and how to care for themselves during and after pregnancy. And then she leaves, knowing that one more family in her community is educated, immunized and healthy.

“As a woman, it is important to help other women,” Ketcia says.

The tablet, hailing from a world that most of the families in Ketcia’s community might have trouble imagining, makes it all possible.

Ketcia uses it to register new patients, track data, monitor pregnancies and provide educational materials.

A health tracking app offers a snapshot of a person’s health with a few taps on multiple choice questions. When Ketcia enters a child’s age and weight in the app, malnutrition markers show up and she can counsel the family on how to treat it.

On her tablet is a record of the lives she changes, of the children she strengthens, of the future she protects.

Ketcia isn’t just doing this work for herself, or even for the families she helps. She’s doing it for for Haiti’s next generation, including all of the children who have all been immunized as part of her efforts.

She’s creating bridges between rural life and the modern world, between new economic possibilities and better health, using a 10-inch screen.

From the factory to the mountain: two worlds, one tablet and a major impact.

About this story

In recent years, Haiti has struggled with natural disasters, cholera and political unrest. To help Haiti recover and move forward, USAID works with the Haitian Government to expand the economy and improve health infrastructures.

In September 2013, USAID awarded a $200,000 grant to Surtab through the Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments (LEAD) program. With an additional $250,000 of private investment, the company built an assembly plant and launched their very first tablet, SURTAB 7. These tablets have become a powerful tool in schools, businesses and the health sector, competing with Apple and Samsung products in quality and functionality,

and priced to be accessible to a broad array of Haitians. They have also created a highly skilled, well-paid local workforce of Haitian employees.

The tablets also play a role in the USAID Services de Santé de Qualité pour Haiti South Central project, which brings quality health services to the southern and central regions of Haiti. In this project, implemented by Pathfinder International, Ketcia is one of over 480 trained health workers who use technology to expand the network’s mobile data collection, health mentoring and referral capabilities.

Photos by David Rochkind for USAID