IESC Kenya: Week One

As part of Intel’s ongoing commitment to improving education through the effective use of technology, Intel’s Education Market Platforms Group (EMPG) launched the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) in September 2009. This program is a short-term service and career development opportunity, for a select group of Intel employees to travel to a developing country to directly support the deployment of Intel-powered classmatePCs. In this blog, Caitlin Rawlins reports on her team’s first week in Kenya.

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Intel Education Service Corps Kenya: Week One

by Caitlin Rawlins

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with my Intel colleagues, Woojong Han, Spencer Merrill, Kevin Partusch, and KY Teoh, as a part of the Intel Education Service Corps. I think that everyone wants to do good in the world and leave it a better place than you found it, and this program allowed me to do that.

Our first project was at the Karibu Centre in Thika, about an hour outside of Nairobi. All of the children sit quietly on the side of the road bundled up in hats and sweaters despite the balmy 80 degree weather. When they see you coming, they start chanting “How are you? How are you?” and attempt to hold your hand. At one point I had one child holding on to each finger on one hand. Since my other hand was occupied carrying a keyboard, they put their hands on the keyboard box instead. If you say, “I am fine, how are you?” they respond with more how are you’s, not really understanding.

There is a tangible sense of community present in Kenya that is not apparent in the United States. I might know my next door neighbors, but I don’t know the people who live a couple doors down, I don’t personally know the mayor of my town or any local politicians, and when the town council meets, I do not go. In contrast, the Umoja village, which directly abuts Karibu Centre and where many of the pre-schoolers come from, is a close knit community. Greetings seem to be very important to Kenyans. Every morning after the devotional everyone goes and shakes everyone else’s hands and says “Hello, good morning, how are you?” In America you really only shake someone else’s hand the first time that you meet them, not after that.

The first time we went to the Umoja village, we were told that John, one of the village elders wanted to meet us, so we assumed that it would be an informal gathering. The meeting took place in their church, a building constructed out of tin on the edge of the village next to the dirt road. When we arrived, there were only 5 people waiting on wooden benches including John who had organized the meeting. However people kept trickling in and, by the time we left, there were over 20 people there. Everyone was introduced to one another. Our English was translated to Swahili and their Swahili to English by Isabella, the director of Karibu Centre. They all had the nicest things to say about Karibu Center: how happy they were to have it and how much they wanted the program to expand. John in particular had a wish list including vocational training, education through primary school (to 8th grade) and even through college.

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John went on to say that the children benefitted greatly from the nursery school/day care at the Centre and to send them anywhere else after going to the Centre was like stunting their growth as human beings, shrinking their IQs. The program is making a difference not only to the toddlers who used to just sit around idly all day, but also to the community because it has pulled together to make this program work and make the area safer, and it has also helped to lessen the stigma of what it means to be a single mother in the area. The Karibu Centre is very much about getting single mothers to a point where they are able to support their children “with dignity and without handouts.”

The next time that my group went to the village, we arranged a meeting to show John, several other village elders, and a government official how a field teacher could function in the villages using Skype to connect to the main classroom with a classmate PC and tethering over 3G. Unfortunately everything went wrong with the demonstration: the cell phone that we brought did not have any data credits left and the classmate PC did not have Skype installed. So we ended up using KY’s Thinkpad and cell phone to demonstrate. I had volunteered to remain behind for the demonstration, so when they called I walked around the center showing the single moms sewing, the children eating lunch, and the classroom chalkboard. Everyone present was fascinated with this technology which would allow the classroom to come to the students.

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The curriculum at Karibu Centre is focused around books, where each book is used for a week of teaching and every lesson involves both small and large motor skills. So for a lesson on colors and numbers, Josephine, one of the teachers, used a Sesame Street counting game. During the counting game the teacher called some of the students up to try using the mouse to click on the number making use of small motor skills and advancing to the next number. After each number the game counted out the numbers that had occurred and the children counted along, though they always wanted to keep going. If the last number was seven the children would still try to count all the way to ten. Josephine kept reminding them that they should stop at the number displayed on the screen. For each counting one of the students was called on to stand up and jump while counting, making use of large motor skills.

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Karibu’s vision is to make all of their curriculum computer-based and enable field teachers to deliver the content to children in the surrounding community, using solar-charged classmate PCs. Our team was able to test out this model and show that it could work, furthering the Karibu Centre’s vision of educating more children younger. We were honored to be a part of realizing these dreams.

P.S. Click hereto catch up on the adventures, experiences and learnings from the 14 previous Intel Education Service Corps teams and the other two teams who are working right now in India, Vietnam and Uganda.

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