If you are like me, every few months or so, you get the get fired up about helping others in some real, tangible way, and for about two seconds you consider leaving your job and your life to head to Port-au-Prince or Bombay or Mexico City to help kids in need of an education. Then a pragmatic reality check kicks in, and you immediately talk yourself out of your impulse, saying, “Not now, but maybe when I retire, when I have more time, when I have fewer commitments,” and so on.
If you are like me in another way, you are also the kind of person who collects boxes of old spectacles to donate via the Lion’s Club, you set aside books for friends, and you hold onto old electronics just in case you might run into someone who could use that very item — for example, your old, still-functioning MacBook.
Last summer, when a dear friend and former colleague HollyAnne Giffin did what I never had the guts to do and followed her similarly-wrought heart to the Trinity Yard School in Ghana, West Africa, I looked around for what I could send along with her to help the children she would teach there. My old MacBook caught my eye, as it sat packed up and sitting in its case, waiting for me to clear out my old photos and save them somewhere else. This would be my chance, I thought, to put technology in the hands of someone in a way that could make a difference.
The Right Stuff
HollyAnne and I discussed how this might be just the right tool for her to take with her. It was small enough for her to pack in a suitcase and powerful enough to connect to the world, even in a remote spot with limited electricity and bandwidth. The sturdy MacBook was still cooking along after the battery had been replaced in the last year of my extended service contract. And it wasn’t so brand spanking new that it might attract interest from immoral types along the road.
My husband, Larry Kahn (Chief Technology Officer of the Kinkaid School here in Houston), helped me back up all my files and transfer my photos to my new laptop, something I’d been putting off for over a year. Then we reset the computer to factory mode and installed updates for all the apps we wanted to keep. It was ready to travel to Cape Three Points, Ghana.
A Report from Ghana
Recently, HollyAnne, who carried my laptop thither, sent a photo of my former laptop being used by Bismark Cudjoe, who graduated this past spring and will begin an apprenticeship soon in traditional batik. I asked for more information about how the computer is being used, and I happily share her report below:
“First of all, really, the computer is merely a tool for the Internet. The students don’t use computers for anything else yet. After student volunteer groups come to the Yard from around the world I (through Putney Student Travel; from Bicton College, England; even from a high school in Jackson Hole, Wyoming), the students here connect with their visitors from afar via Facebook. The kids keep up with their contacts…religiously. This is the VAST majority of what they use the Internet for. Having a connection with foreigners is a point of pride for them, and they really enjoy getting messages and updates from former visitors. We hear about their messages at dinner. Second, music. Music is a really important part of everyday life here — there is always music on. They both find and download music from the Internet. Third, movies or YouTube clips.
“We haven’t used your laptop in school yet, but I’ll probably be opening pages on the Internet for the kids to read (so the pages will be up, but we don’t need to be connected live with the Internet), and we will contact other schools, classrooms, and resources via email and Skype. As we say here, “Skype works small (as in only a little bit), but it still works!”
You can learn more about the activities of the Trinity Yard School from its Facebook page.
Scaling Out Our Success
So, I wonder, how many laptops or other devices are sitting in closets of well-meaning do-gooders like me? What would we need to do to literally put them in the hands of children around the world who can use them for good?
My challenge for you is to find a child somewhere who has slipped into the crevices of the digital divide and make a difference by putting a working device in that child’s hands. If you don’t know someone who can deliver your device personally, as I did, ask around at your child’s school, at your church, or at organizations you can trust. Surely, someone you know will know someone who knows someone who is making a journey somewhere children are in need. Make the trek to the Trinity Yard School, or its equivalent in your hometown, as I hope to do sometime in the next year (my version one iPad in hand), and let me hear from you about your journey across the digital divide to help learners everywhere embrace the 21st century. Let us cross the digital divide, one laptop at a time.