Intel Education Service Corp: Egypt Week 2 (Cairo) – Try to Say Yes

Egypt is a place where everything seems possible. Too much traffic on the road? Create your own lane in between the cars! No way to put the windows in the car up or down? The driver has a spare handle in the glove compartment! The train isn’t scheduled to stop in the city you’re going to? The conductor will make a special stop just for you! And when all you want to do is say NO to offers to buy pyramids, sphinxes, and other Egyptian trinkets, the common refrain from relentless peddlers is, “Try to say yes!”

Egypt 2 - girls use CMPC BS.JPGI got to know the positive spirit of Egyptians working as part of a team of five Intel Education Service Corps volunteers. We have completed the field work phase in Egypt of a two-month service program. Max Alt, Dina Ghobashy, Ali Rabbani, Leroy Tripette and I worked with our partner NGO (non-governmental organization), CARE Egypt, for a little over two weeks in rural villages deploying 500 Intel-powered Classmate PCs in 20 schools. The Intel-powered classmate PCs had been donated to Egypt’s Ministry of Education, and the Ministry generously allocated them to CARE for this program. These classmate PCs (CMPCs) will benefit 13,000 students, over 56% of whom are girls. CARE places special emphasis on investing in girls because their empowerment benefits whole communities.

Working in 20 villages outside the governates of Minya and Beni Suef in Upper Egypt (a couple hundred kilometers south of Cairo), we split into two groups on set-up days and went to work updating the hard disk image on the CMPCs, setting-up teacher laptops, configuring wireless routers, and wiring charging carts to accommodate 25 CMPCs at each school. We had extensive set-up help from our CARE partners, teachers in each school, the computer lab personnel, and, in one case, our driver Shaban who became a charging-cart-wirer extraordinaire.

Egypt 2 - school group Minya.JPGDuring the several hours it took to set-up each school (those routers never work the same way twice!), we had the pleasure of getting to know students, teachers and school personnel. Most of the villages had never seen foreigners before and we were instant celebrities with a tweeny-bopper following that would make the cast of “Twilight” blush. Students crowded around us shouting, “What is your name?” “Where do you live?” “Welcome to Egypt!” “I love you!” They were almost as excited to meet us as they were to have new laptops in their schools. Several students told us, “I will never forget you.”

I spent part of every day videotaping our efforts and our interactions in the schools for a short documentary about the project. In interviews the students talked about wanting to be doctors, teachers and engineers. They were eager to speak English and to learn as much as they could from us in the short time we were there. We became close with several of them. There was Amr who gave Leroy a CD of math equations he created himself, and then tried to give Max his wallet as a token of his affection. There was Ahmed who loves “Romeo and Juliet” and read aloud to us from an English book before jumping-in to help set-up the charging cart. While I videotaped all the special kids we met, I was particularly interested in the girls. There was a seven-year old who looked in wonder and amazement at the small blue laptop. My new friend Labna led me around the school arm-in-arm and wanted me to come to her house for lunch. Hemet, a very shy thirteen-year old girl wants to be a professor of religion. Her friend Aisha wants to be a doctor someday (but right now they mostly just want to pose for the camera!) These girls have many fewer opportunities to interact with computers than their male classmates and brothers. They are expected to stay home and help with housework, and are not permitted to go to Internet cafes. It was much harder to involve girls in our set-up work, although many women helped and told us how much it meant to them to have that experience.

Egypt 2 - grp men train Beni Suef.JPGIn addition to set-up days there were three teacher training days. Dina and Ali led the training. Both are training specialists in their regular Intel jobs and Arabic speakers, so the teachers couldn’t have been in better hands. Teachers were engaged, excited and inquisitive. Arms shot up into the air. They were thrilled by the opportunity to introduce more interactivity to lesson plans and look forward to the positive influence the new laptops will have in their schools.

I have videotaped and interviewed all of my team members and our partners from CARE, and the biggest surprise for all of us is that we finished! Sometimes the electricity went out. One time there was a bird’s nest on top of the school’s Internet router. All the time there was dust – a thick layer of dark dirt that got on everything including computers, cameras, clothes and, especially, hands. But somehow, on schedule, 500 Intel-powered classmate PCs and 20 teacher laptops have been configured and installed in mobile carts in 20 schools. At least one hundred teachers have been trained. We’ve gotten to know 20 principals, 20 English teachers (at least), and all the computer lab personnel at the schools. We have discussed whether or not Valentine’s Day is an official national holiday in the US (it is not), how to become accredited to teach in the US (I’m not sure), whether we like Obama (yes, we do), whether we will be able to help deploy more classmate PCs and more teacher laptops to these schools (In sha’allah – God Willing), if we will take teachers, students and principals back with us to the US (Yela! – let’s go!), and if we will ever come back and visit these schools again. In sha’allah. And I know they were thinking, “Try to say yes!”

P.S. Read more about the experiences of other Intel Education Service Corps teams who worked in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Kenya in 2009 by clicking on their blogs listed below:

Vietnam:

Intel Education Service Corp: Last night in Quang Tri

Intel Education Service Corps – Teaching in Ho Chi Minh

Bangladesh:

Intel Education Service Corp: Bangladesh Week 1 Summary

How Four Intel Volunteers Brought the Excitement of PCs to Remote Bangladesh

Kenya:

IESC Kenya: Week 1 Solar Powered Classmate PCs

IESC Kenya: Week 2: Computer 101 (Pre-School edition)

4 Responses to Intel Education Service Corp: Egypt Week 2 (Cairo) – Try to Say Yes

  1. Jason Cheah says:

    excellent blog Susan… nicely captures the spirit and essence of what you guys were doing over there… wish I could have been there w.you!
    keep the amazing work up :)

  2. Ahmed says:

    Actually, I am so admiring to revolution of intel training and education in our new world. I have got my intel training in Egypt. I have spent three years teachinh in UAE. I have felt the importance of such great ideas that I have started to implment to get our future better and more brilliant. My dream to work in such great corporation and I have contacted the Intel cordinator in the ministry of education in Egypt o start my work as a trainer but I haven’t got respond yet.
    Ahmed Amin
    Cairo – Egypt