Guéoul sits out at the edge of the Sahara. The harmattan winds bullied in hard the other day from the north, after a long blow over that desert. The sky was filled with sandy hot air, and you couldn’t find the horizon. Suddenly, it was 106 degrees, face all sweat covered and stinging. This is winter, the cool time in Senegal, but the harmattan trumps the calendar.
You know what brings me here. The Rotary-funded computer classroom. I’m here, and happily”¦ trying to find a way to make a computer classroom work in such unlikely circumstances.
How’d we get to this point? Someone had some used laptops and asked could we use them in Guéoul. I said “sure”, but at the time, I sure thought it was a silly gift to take to sub-Sahara.
Sometimes, something just wants to happen, and you are in the path, and it’s pretty clear that you better get busy and just be helpful. The idea that unfolded was to establish a computer classroom paired with a Cyber Café. The Cyber income will eventually create income to pay for the computer classroom. Pretty good idea, actually, but easier to dream up than to do.
Things lined themselves up. At first we didn’t know that Senegal is on a big push to get internet access to its citizens: Guéoul is on the only road headed north and phone lines are next to that road. Guéoul got access in May of 2009.
Rotary noticed us, and suddenly we were in the throes of writing a grant application to build out that classroom and send a container of desk top computers. A RI grant application is a lot harder than it looks. An “angel” is essential. The name of mine is Frank Sargent.
Peace Corps Senegal thought it was a great project and a Volunteer took it on as a secondary project. The benefit of this was that the start-up laptops could be shipped directly to Peace Corps, avoiding a lot of complications and thefts. This month, a new Volunteer arrives, and this is one of her main projects.
World Vision said they’d help us get a container in-country, although things have changed and it portends to be a lot harder than it used to be.
Doing a project in a “developing nation”?
The things that went wrong, are going wrong, are trying to go wrong”¦the things that should be easy that become impossible. The unintended consequences ““ both bad and good. The dramas, the politics and intrigues, the staffing problems, the equipment problems, the power struggles among the school directors and community leaders. The cultural surprises. Language difficulties.
I’m going to the Cyber now to send this note off to you. I’ll trudge thru that hottening up sand, squinting against the glare of sun shining through sandy air. Donkey and horse-drawn wagons will pass by the front door of the Cyber. Roosters will crow. Goats will bleat. Cats will slink about. A herd of big-horned cows will pass by on their way to outlying fields. The women come from the market, baskets on their head. A world from the 1800’s.
I’ll go into the Cyber, with access to you and the whole world, and will be bemused and dazzled at the incongruity. Over 500 students now have access to computer classes. Yalla, baax ne. (God is good.) Alhamdulilahi!
Who uses the computer classroom?
Jumelage. That’s French for twins.
A French class at a highschool in Boulder twinned with the Lycee in Guéoul. The teachers in Guéoul and Boulder conferenced via Skype to plan how to work out a joint lesson plan between the two classes.
The students exchanged essays and biographies. Then, one day the Guéoul students tromped through that hot sand over to the Informatique (computer classroom) and Skyped the Boulder students. Yalla, baax ne! God is good. That’s what they say over there when a good thing happens. See the disbelief and awe on these faces? They are talking to fellow students 5,400 miles away.
The delighted grandmother
Fatou is 93 years old, and her grandson is in the States. They both feared that she would die before they got to see each other again. She managed to walk to the Informatique. I was there and watched the joy and warmth as they talked to each other for 20 minutes.
A novel idea for sustainability
What if we could have a Cyber Café and a “Kinko’s” next to the computer classroom. What if we could use the income to pay for the classroom and the teacher?! A promising idea ““ a way to make a classroom sustainable. First step ““ a sign along the highway to draw customers.
The Informatique staff is very competent. In 2016 we polished the outside front wall of our classrooms. The more than 100 year old external walls were painted in a professional cream color, and the logo now fills one of the walls. The staff is positioning itself to work with the new University of Gueoul.