IESC Kenya: Week Two

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 classmate PCs. In this blog, Caitlin Rawlins reports on her team’s second week in Kenya.

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Intel Education Service Corps Kenya: Week Two

by Caitlin Rawlins

I had never met anyone on my team before we were thrown together by the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC). Given that we all worked on very different things at Intel, I doubt that our paths would have crossed otherwise. Everyone came from different backgrounds and from different places so we were able to bring our diverse wealth of experience to bear in Kenya. In particular, my teammate Woojong could relate with the Kenyans, having grown up in a village in South Korea where no one knew when running water and electricity would turn on again as rolling blackouts were common and could last for days. He was able to pull himself and his family out of poverty, by getting educated and getting a job, becoming a productive member of society. He feels like he owes someone something for his success, and was very grateful to have this opportunity to give back.

Our second project in Kenya was on Rusinga Island. The island is located in Lake Victoria and is very beautiful, reminding me of my trips to other island paradises. However unlike the other islands I have visited, Rusinga Island has no running water or electricity except where solar panels have been set up. During the IESC application process, every applicant was asked if they were okay roughing it as some of the locations didn’t have what we in America have come to think of as basic necessities–potable running water and stable electricity. Although I had said yes, and really thought that I meant it, the first day that we were there, I was wondering what I’d gotten myself in to. I am not an outdoorsy person, so even though we were living in relative luxury, the fact that there were lizards and spiders crawling all over the walls, bats hanging from the ceiling, and a room with a hole in the floor for a toilet, was very trying for me. I was surprised when after a few days, all of these things were no longer distressing and in fact became the new standard of normal.

Currently the Rusinga Island Trust, the non-governmental organization (NGO) that we worked with on Rusinga Island, is transporting computers between six schools, both primary and secondary, using a Rav4 with solar panels on the roof to charge the classmate PCs. We were able to visit and teach at all of the schools. One of the schools involved in the program, the Nyumunga School (otherwise referred to as “the special school”), is for children with disabilities who are generally unwanted and uncared for by their families and are functionally outcast and orphaned. So the special school houses, clothes, feeds, and educates these children that no one else wants, and actually has quite a long waiting list to get in as the school serves not only Rusinga Island but the greater county. There are currently not enough beds for all of the students attending the school and some have to double up on their twin beds in the dorms. The rugged terrain is not conducive to having a physical disability, with rocks all over the place, and very few ramps. To get into the girls dormitory, the girls have to be lifted since there is no ramp. Children of all ages attend the same classes there since there are not enough teachers for them all be broken up by grade level.

The special school directly adjoins a regular primary school. Both schools attend the computer class in the special school’s unfinished classroom, which is made of brick, has windows with no glass, a dirt floor, and a portable chalkboard. The physically-disabled sit closer to the front and those who need help to get in and out of the classroom are helped by those from the other school. The members of the board of directors said that having the special school directly next to the primary school and allowing the primary school children to interact with the physically disabled children has positively affected how they are perceived by their peers. So not only is the school influencing the lives of its students by taking them in but also public opinion on how the physically disabled are perceived.

Our visit directly coincided with spring break, so we were able to hold training sessions for the teachers, many of whom had not seen a computer until they started being brought to the schools. The teachers were eager to learn. They were asking questions and practicing using the skills that we taught them and in some cases even helping their colleagues. It feels very rewarding to teach people who want to learn. Everyone is very friendly and eager to learn. It’s intoxicating to help someone understand something. When they accomplish what you’ve taught them, they’re thinking, “look what I did!” and you’re thinking “look what I accomplished!”

There are so many people wanting in Kenya that it can sometimes seem insurmountable to get the whole country modernized. I wish that I could do more to help. But it’s hard to know where to start, and how best to give to make people more self-sufficient rather than dependent on your gifts.

Ultimately I think that the gift of our collective technical expertise has been the best gift that we could have given especially in terms of not only furthering the goals for Karibu Center and the Rusinga Island Trust but more broadly for Kenya in general. I feel a part of something much greater than myself and I hope that all of their dreams become reality.

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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