Beyond the Cube: Connecting the Unconnected

This blog was published on the behalf of Mika Ansley, MVE Ops Technical Program Manager and Malawi volunteer team member, and Alison Elmer, MVE Communications Manager.

It took him two seconds to say yes, when Mohsen Fazlian, VP at Intel and GM of Manufacturing and Validation Engineering, was asked to send a team of his employees to Africa to help set up remote learning centers. He knew the experience would be life-changing for the teachers and students in Malawi, Africa as well as the volunteers themselves.

One hundred volunteers applied and eight, including myself, were humbled to be selected—working together from California, Costa Rica, Ireland, and Oregon to set up four learning centers benefitting adolescent girls who are not currently in school by empowering them with education and digital literacy. Our mission was to design curriculum for the learning centers, train local teachers on technology basics, and prepare them to deliver the custom curriculum.

Although we expected limited technology knowledge, we were still surprised to find the teachers and students had no experience with technology once we arrived in Malawi. None owned a smart phone or had ever seen a tablet. With sporadic solar power in our hotel, our team was far more connected than most of the students, who typically don’t have power at home. This is one of main challenges we discovered on the ground. Our team was in a state of constant adjustment in order to meet the objectives but our team leader kept us going with daily prep talks. One in particular stood out to me, “What we are doing is tough and I know you all are tired. And even though we came with a plan, let’s remember the focus and drop any topics that do not aid the teachers in the short term.”

Our ability to quickly adapt, focus on our goal, and work through ambiguity paid off. By the end of trip, the village with no libraries now had online access to resources like encyclopedias. And by the end of the training, the teachers, now well equipped with curriculum, were calling us “sister” or “friend”, and I finally stopped wondering if technology would be more of a distraction than a learning aid.

We were confident the teachers, students, and learning centers were set up for success so we said our bittersweet goodbyes—for now—and handed the project over to our partners at Team4Techand CARE Malawi, who will ensure the work we kicked off will be sustained and scaled to reach more students. And needless to say our VP, Mohsen, was right. The experience was truly life-changing for everyone involved.

Curious what motivated us to volunteer? Here’s what the team had to say: