IESC Kenya: An Island of New Opportunities

The Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) is a short-term service and career development opportunity for a select group of Intel employees to support the deployment of Intel classmate PCs in developing countries. In this blog, Vinesh Lal, a senior manufacturing engineer with Intel’s Intelligent Systems Group recaps his team’s first week working with Rusinga Island Trust in Kenya.

Rusinga's solar lab brings Intel classmate PCs to the furthest corners of the island

“Our dream is that someday, every classroom in Rusinga Island will have computers.” This hope was expressed by one of the teachers we are working with here in Kenya.

Rusinga Island is a remote location by Kenyan standards, with many men catching fish at night and women drying it and selling it by day. It’s safe to say that computers have not been a part of most people’s education here.

The Rusinga Island Trust is helping to bridge the digital divide through its mobile computer lab that visits this teacher’s school and several others on a weekly rotation. The lab uses Intel classmate PCs charged by an SUV with solar panels mounted on the roof, so it can provide training in even the most remote places.

Meet Mike, Vinesh, Vera, Haw and Glenn!

But, as we learned on our first day, it’s not always easy to get there. In fact, we were stuck in the mud for an hour en route to our first class (this article talks more about the extreme rains this year) and are getting plenty of exercise digging our car out of the mud on a regular basis, often with the assistance of complete strangers.

Our team’s mission is to deploy new classmate PCs purchased by the NGO and to provide training on advanced applications, including Excel, PowerPoint and the internet for the teachers, and working with the students on Scratch and LEGO WeDo, two simple computer programming tools.

After arriving on the island, our team and our NGO liaison Alphonce sat down with the local teacher’s council to discuss our training agenda, which was extremely useful to understand their priorities and also logistics for dividing teachers into groups. Since then we have visited five primary and secondary schools in addition to the Orphan Community Center.

Vinesh leading a class on Scratch animation

Our trip has been an adventure since we arrived. Every day has been very demanding, with multiple morning and afternoon sessions with the children, and then evening lessons for the teachers. Time-permitting, we squeeze in a soccer game where the Intel team gets to show off whatever little skill we have! In between our sessions, I am greatly enjoying the feel of the air, the smells, and the weather, which brings back childhood memories of the Fiji Islands where I grew up.

All of us are exhausted at the end of each day, but the excitement on the students’ faces and the warm greetings from the principals and teachers tells us how appreciated and welcome we are. Also exciting for the students is our two teaching assistants John and Eve. They grew up on Rusinga Island and are now university students in Nairobi, which is a huge inspiration for the students here who can now begin to dream about university and even a career in computer science.