Volunteer trainer for NetHope Academy in Haiti and Kenya
May 2011. When Marc Michault touched down on the ground in Haiti nine months after the country’s most devastating earthquake, he was a bit shocked by how little had been rebuilt. As a Microsoft Certified Trainer, Michault was there to teach a few dozen Haitian IT seniors and recent graduates about identifying problems and providing technical support in Windows environments. The students were participating in the NetHope Academy Internship Program, a six-month program combining on-the-job learning in non-profit organizations in Haiti with classroom training. The classroom training helps the students succeed in their IT internships and prepare them for a career in IT.
With close to 15 years of experience as a trainer, Michault was able to buckle down and get to work immediately, guiding almost 40 top students through intensive IT coursework over his two-week stay. For the most part, the college-aged students worked hard and were eager to learn. But in the confines of the classroom, Michault wasn’t fully privy to the realities of their lives outside or the motivations behind all that hard work and determination.
One afternoon, during a particularly strong tropical storm, he became frustrated when the students were distracted enough to run to the window or even venture outside. Then he realized that some of their families might still be living in makeshift tents. The value of the training -to help students rebuild their lives- came into sharp focus. When he later learned that 80 percent of the graduating class found permanent employment, he knew every moment spent volunteering was worth it. As NetHope’s Field Capacity Building Program Director Frank Schott has said, “We want to help Haitians help themselves.”
Like many of his colleagues, Michault grew up in the ‘70s without computers. In fact, when he signed up for his first computer class as a second-semester biochemistry student in college in Texas, he second-guessed his decision because, he recalls, “I’d heard about those computer things, and it sounded interesting, but I had no clue what they were. You could have put a computer in front of me -and I’m being honest- I would not have recognized it.” Within a year he’d switched schools and majors, and computers became his life. Eventually he settled down in Switzerland as a certified trainer.
Marc first learned of volunteering opportunities with NetHope Academy a summit for Microsoft Certified Trainers in 2007. NetHope Academy provides ICT training to professionals working in non-profit organizations and offers an IT Internship program with NGOs for students in developing countries. “As the person was presenting, I was already trying to inch outside of my chair so that as soon as the presentation was over I could jump up and run to her desk and say, ‘Listen, I’m interested, I’m interested.’ I was really fascinated by the idea right off the bat.”
Marc readily admits that part of his motivation to volunteer was selfish: He wanted to travel to new places, to expand his horizons, and to continue to network within the Microsoft community. But after his first experience as a volunteer trainer in Nairobi, Kenya, with IT staff members of Nethope organizations, he was invigorated not just by the travel but by the students he met and the skills he was able to pass on empowering his students to be more efficient and successful in their work. When the opportunity to travel to Haiti arose, he jumped on it.
“I am keenly aware that computers are boring,” Michault says. But they are not boring to him, and that is key. The most important quality he believes a trainer can have is “to enjoy it. You have to get something from the fact that people know more once you’ve taught them. A lot of trainers I’ve talked to say that the best moment when you deliver a training is this ‘Aha’ moment that you get from a student where he suddenly understands something that he didn’t understand before. That’s immensely cool.”