Last week I had the opportunity to re-visit a school in Mboro, Senegal. My first visit had taken place in August, 2009, when the Ecole Notre Dame was just getting ready to start their new school year with an infusion of OLPC laptops. During that visit, I was impressed by how everything seemed to be in place and lined up for this deployment to be a success.
There were four university-level students (from the US) who, as part of the OLPCorps Africa program had spent two weeks in Kigali receiving training, and then 10 weeks on site at their specific school/city where they would carry out their deployment and training. This group benefited from the active support and enthusiastic presence of a local Peace Corps worker, Devon Connelly, as well as from the fact that two of the students had not received their visas to go to Mauritania (to the North of Senegal), so they stayed with this team in Mboro, and effectively doubled the equipment and manpower–from two to four–available to help.
Above are two of the students I met, Stephanie Selvik and Justin Burnett. On the right is Devon Connelly with one of the school’s teachers.
As noted above, all the signs were very promising. All the circumstances seemed right. There was a local champion in the school headmaster, Pierre Khar Tine, who had been working to get computers in his school for four years. The town had grid electricity, its residents were fairly well-to-do and widely employed, both of which were thanks to a phosphate mine just up the road. This meant that the parents could afford the school fees for their students to attend this school, and there were no worries about power, for how to charge the laptops. There was even Internet connectivity!
The headmaster had gotten the parents and community involved and excited; this project was the talk of the town because the teachers were recalled during the summer months for technology training, and the students were as well—summer school! And everyone was excited about it! The university students were carrying out both the tech set-up and training, and they reported that all had been going well. They had all the components in place, and training was set to start the next week. (Pictured below has to be one of the most beautiful charging stations I’ve ever seen!)
The school’s headmaster, Pierre, took me on a tour of the grounds, and the first place he took me to was the toilets! Beautiful, shiny, sparkling clean toilets.
And he told me that the previous year, a French NGO had contacted his school, and asked him what they could do for the school. And he thought about this for a while, and then, even though he had been working to get computers into the school for three years at that point, he decided to ask them for assistance with toilets. And so the school had brand new toilets.
I’m sure I was smiling from ear to ear, on hearing this. Toilets before technology. That’s become a big rallying point for me! Because toilets are technology, too, and it just might be the case that with limited resources, human waste disposal might just come first.
And then the next year, in 2009, they got their computers.
Next post: the Mboro OLPC deployment, 1.5 years later.