IESC Kenya: Michael Jackson, Facebook, and other searches from 91 curious girls

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, Megan Bednarz, a campaign manager with Intel’s Intelligent Systems Group recaps her team’s second week working with Free The Children in Kenya.

Meg teaching Kisaruni students to use their new Intel classmate PCs

Most teen girls love to sing and dance, and that is how our week began at the Kisaruni Secondary School on a rural hillside village Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Our IESC team was welcomed with a touching and profoundly memorable cultural ceremony, and we quickly found ourselves on stage, learning the rhythmic moves alongside the school’s 91 students.

These students are amongst the fortunate few to attend the first girls’ high school in the area. Our assignment was to empower them by expanding the school’s classmate PC deployment and training the students and teachers on Intel Learning Series software and basic computer skills through the Intel® Easy Steps program. The school now has 50 classmate PCs, and the teachers and girls have embraced computing into their curriculum and daily lives.

In return for our efforts we received far greater enlightenment from the girls, the school’s fantastic teachers and our Free The Children guides: Justus, who taught us about sustainable development across Africa; James, a Maasai warrior, who protected our team and shared stories of his rich heritage; and Jane, a local Kipsigi mama and community leader who has helped her own beekeeping business and many other woman-owned enterprises to prosper through a “merry-go-round” lending program.

Kisaruni welcome ceremony, which included dance lessons for our team!

An Internet connection is not yet feasible at Kisaruni, so we trained the students to use their eGranary – a hard drive containing Wikipedia and millions of other educational documents – which dramatically changed their world. After introducing them to the concept of search, they quickly began looking up areas of interest: Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai was most popular, followed by Michael Jackson and articles on Maasai and Kipsigi culture. It was a thrill to see them empowered with all this information at their fingertips.

One morning we discussed what they were most curious about in the world. Given their introduction to computers, they asked a series of fascinating and intelligent questions: What is the Internet? What is this Facebook thing a previous visitor had mentioned to them? What is email? Would they get to use these tools when they went to college? What makes a computer think? How would computing affect their future careers in medicine, social justice law and teaching?

Meg and team visit with Jane, a community leader, in her new house

Their curiosity created a euphoric buzz at the school. After each lesson, one student would stand up and graciously share her appreciation for what she had learned. At the end of the day, the girls had to be convinced to leave the lab – as they were so energized to discover and absorb new skills.

Technology is only as good as what it will do for people. Experiencing the Kisaruni girls connecting their new access to information to the ability to realize their dreams was the thrill of a lifetime. It reinforced my passion to help others change the world – which these girls are certain to do. “Asante sana” (thank you) to Intel and Free The Children for giving us this opportunity!

Group photo after goodbye ceremony and "we will never forget you" song. Asante sana!