By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
When Gary Boice created Tek4Kids five years ago, he intended to introduce computer technology to elementary students in Haiti. He hoped it would help break the cycle of poverty in that country.
He has introduced computer technology to six schools in Haiti and now he’s expanding his mission to include a job-training program for post-secondary students.
The St. Francis School of Technology opened in September 2015 and enrolled 24 students. It offers an intensive three-year certificate program and aims to provide students with the skills they need to secure a job.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and the vast majority of Haitians live in extreme poverty, Boice noted. Job prospects, especially in Jérémie, where Tek4Kids operates, are scarce, he said.
“To really change Haiti, we need to provide jobs,” he said. “I know how in demand IT jobs are all around the world, even in Haiti.”
Tech training is a natural fit for Boice, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Assumption and St. Celestine Church in Southern Indiana. He worked for IBM for 30 years and created a networking company called boice.net (which he recently sold).
The students in Jérémie focus on programming, database design, network design and network management.
Boice said he hopes to use his technology knowledge and business contacts to create opportunities for jobs — particularly positions in networking, database and programming — that can be done remotely. With the infrastructure already in place, he said, he hopes to attract U.S. businesses to Jérémie.
After students complete the first year of the tech program, the Tek4Kids staff helps them secure internships in Haiti.
There are three teachers and one administrative staff person at the technology school. In addition to tech classes, students also may take English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.
Rose Yunker, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, teaches ESL at the Haitian school. Yunkers, 81, read about the program in The Record in 2014 and attended an informational meeting about Tek4Kids last April. There, she heard Boice express the need for volunteers at the tech school.
Yunker said her initial thought was “living and working in Haiti is out of the question.”
Ultimately, she said, it became clear God was asking her to take on the challenge.
“I realized little by little that I had the health and the background (French speaker and Ph.D. in education) to undertake the task,” she said. “I understood that God was tapping me on the shoulder to take on a new challenge in the evening of my life.”
Yunker said her students are proud of the technology school and are conscious of the importance of the skills they are learning.
“They are eager to enter the job market as young professionals with marketable skills and great hopes for employment in a country where approximately 60 percent of working-age adults are unemployed,” Yunker explained in an email.
The tech school’s namesake — St. Francis of Assisi — is a saint dear to Boice’s heart. He is a lay member of the Secular Franciscan Order, St. Joseph of Cupertino Fraternity at Mt. St. Francis in Southern Indiana. The order shares St. Francis’ concern for the poor and the marginalized.
Boice, a 1962 graduate of St. Xavier High School, first traveled to Haiti in 2006 with a group of volunteers from the Cathedral to install water purification systems at St. Louis Cathedral, the Archdiocese of Louisville cathedral’s sister parish.
While there, he said, he was struck by the lack of educational opportunities and resources.
“We started out by providing water purification systems in the school” because so many children were absent due to water-borne illnesses, Boice said.
Then, he created Tek4Kids and initially introduced a laptop and iPad program — all through partnerships with existing schools. Today, the program works with six schools. It has provided 144 computers and trained 800 elementary and high school students to use them.
Boice noted that the water ministry — that first brought him to Haiti — remains a critical foundation of Tek4Kids. He said principals of the schools tell him students have improved health, fewer absences and fewer illnesses as a result of the purified water.
Those interested in learning more about Tek4Kids are invited to an information session on July 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 418 E. Main Street, New Albany, Ind., 47150. Visit tek4kids.org to learn more.