As IESC volunteers, our team of 6 set out to build on the previous team’s successin Kenya to continue helping teachers and students learn to use Intel-powered classmate PCs in their classrooms. Finally clear of the Nairobi traffic, we turned down a muddy road to see our first project site, where Orphans Overseas partners with the Salvation Army to serve the children and families of the area called Thika at the Karibu Center. Looking at the surrounding slums, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves – are PCs really such a good idea in an area with so many other needs?
Our answer was provided the next day. Children started arriving early. Unice, 2, was guided by the help of sister Luci, 3, on their walk from the nearby Gichagi slum. Joining about 60 others, their day begins under the care of gifted teachers. Morning devotionals, hygiene, classtime, playtime and a meal are the daily order. As part of the routine, the teachers incorporate the Intel-powered classmate PCs to capture the children’s attention and engage them in naming shapes, colors and objects, and counting lessons. The class starts when everyone is sitting with arms across their chest, giving enough room for everyone to see. The kids all sit back but then ever so slowly start creeping forward. Sometimes they literally were crawling on the table trying to get close and touch the PCs. With incredible energy and focus, teachers Joycephine and Mercyline coach and engage each child, while somehow keeping the other 14 in their chairs. “Number 1! What number is this? Number One!” Each child, in turn, touches the screen or touchpad to advance the lesson. But this isn’t just entertainment for toddlers. It’s a carefully planned and executed combination of events to help these children develop fine and gross motor skills and advance early cognitive abilities. When lunchtime comes, Luci carefully helps Unice with big spoonfuls of muthokoi, in what may be their only meal of the day. After lunch Luci guides Unice back home, where they will wait outside until someone arrives late in the evening to let them in.
The Karibu Center also serves as an interim residence for expecting teenagers, new mothers and their babies. They are energetic, fun-loving and enthusiastically invited us into their games of dodge ball and volleyball. The schedule posted in their dorm showed their weekly routine of training including parenting, sewing and computer classes. They are watched over by a group of ‘house moms’ who help them learn responsible parenting skills. Each afternoon they are led by “Mega” (Megan Steele), the center’s volunteer coordinator, in computer literacy classes using the classmate PCs. They keep their babies in their arms or let them sleep together on a mat in the classroom. Marne and Lisa quickly formed close bonds with the girls, and began teaching them new computer skills. They were thirsty learners. On the first day, after 2 hours of computer training, most of the girls were exhausted, but one grabbed Marne’s arm and said, “Teach me something else.” Learning to use a word processing program on a classmate PC is now an ingredient in their economic future — once they leave Karibu Center, they can take jobs typing letters and documents using the PCs in local cybershops. As we prepared to leave, all the girls crowded around Lisa’s computer when she showed them pictures and videos taken during our stay, laughing and pointing to the pictures. It was one of the many special moments that we experienced there.
All week, while some of us were in the classrooms, teaching (and learning), others were busy with the task of setting up new Classmate PCs, installing new software, and debugging hardware and software issues. The center director, Ian May, specifically asked us to help improve the staff’s ability to maintain their installation, so John and Abdulai gave full attention to maintenance training of four Karibu staffers. Hillary, Millicent, Ann and Kevin were willing and dedicated, taking full advantage of the many hours we spent together. By the end of our stay, they had learned some important troubleshooting skills and had mastered the software re-load process.
All through our week at Karibu Center, we were hosted by the Center staff, including Ian and Anne May and their children Ely and Lucy. The children quickly adopted us as new playmates, and by the end of the week, we all felt like their new aunts and uncles. We were cared for in so many ways, including sharing meals, an invitation to morning devotionals and walks through the local markets. We can’t say thank you enough to Megan, ‘the Major’, Margaret and all the staff for making us feel at home.
We faced our share of technical challenges during our stay at Karibu Center. Abdulai had to make a 12 hour download for needed software. Nara and I spent the first couple days slogging through the software load details, and finally got to a reproducible process we could use to train the staff. Even though we all felt well prepared coming in, there were still surprises and difficulties we didn’t anticipate. Computer support in this environment is more difficult — less access to resources, low bandwidth communication, and our inexperience with the particular platform, all took their toll. There were many days when we worked late into the evenings and were only able to finalize our work by a long all-hands push on the last day. But those challenges were more than offset by the satisfaction of seeing young learners being reached and the young mothers’ keen interest.
And anything that seemed to be a problem to us was put in clear perspective by Luci and Unice.
Next: On to Rusinga Island, on Lake Victoria, for the Kageno Project.
By Noel Durrant and the Kenya IESC “Team Kilimanjaro”
IESC Kenya Kilimanjaro Team with Karibu Center teachers. Back row: Abdulia Sei, John Kariuki, Mercyline Mukhwana, Nara Sundararajan, Joycephine Ingati, Millicent Mugambi, Noel Durrant. Front row: Lisa Depew, Hillary Gondi and Marne Dunn.