This week, Computer Aid International’s new Chief Executive, Tom Davis visits Nairobi to meet with our Africa Programmes team and some of Computer Aid’s partners
Mukuru Kwa Njena in Embakasi is one of Nairobi’s slums, and contains within it Our Lady of Nazareth Primary School, where Computer Aid International supplies its refurbished computers through its partners Computers for Schools Kenya (CFSK). When we went to the computer lab, about 50 children were engrossed in a PowerPoint exercise – we tiptoed in and walked around the aisles looking at the presentations that they were building.
We were on a visit with CFSK to one of the schools to which they provide computers as part of their programmes delivering information and communications technology (ICT) to educational institutions in Kenya without a lot of either. Although school was out this week, a class of 8th form students was studying for their exams, and CFSK arranged this as part of my induction as the new Chief Executive of Computer Aid, this week visiting the Kenyan part of the Computer Aid team. We made our way here in a 4X4, which just about managed to negotiate deeply rutted dirt paths, dodge crowds of pedestrians, and deftly navigate carts full of chopped wood, roadside displays of bags of charcoal and neatly stacked chevrons of toilet paper. Sometimes this was only possible by slowing to a halt, backing up, driving forward, backing up again, twisting the vehicle like a rubber band around all the obstacles, meanwhile bouncing up and down deep crevices in the earth that passed for a road. Our expert driver navigated perfectly, except for taking the wrong left and leading us to a market and a seeming dead end. Then we turned around, and we were lucky to meet someone he knew who put us on the right path, and we jounced and jerked and juddered towards the school. Driving down a side road off the main path, we came to some gates, and once we drove through, left the external chaos behind. The compound we found was neatly arranged in rows of low one storey buildings and we were escorted to the middle of a row of buildings and into the computer lab. While we walked around, I stopped to speak to Frances (not her real name).
She was age 15, and had only been working on PCs for about 4 years. She only started at the age of 11 because before, PCs were not so readily available. Even now, in the computer lab, there were a few – not many – small groups of 2 or 3 children sharing one PC. The computers are not connected to the internet, hampering wider communication and usage, but making regulating what the children do a bit easier. Frances had no PC at home to use, so had to come to open sessions at the computer lab in the morning or at lunchtime to get sufficient screen practice. Schoolwork is not divided off from computer time, and the use of computers was integrated into all lessons in the curriculum. As we left, Frances waved goodbye, on to her next class and looking forward to her return to the computer lab.
Our Lady of Nazareth feel that they can definitely see a marked difference in pupil involvement and performance from when there were no PCs until now… but this is only an unproven rule which intuitively feels right. Separate from the lab is a room where teachers can also become familiar with PCs, and there is a separate lab for parents – to reduce or eliminate digital disparity between mother and father and son and daughter. Our Lady’s approach, thoughtful and holistic as it was, gave us a great deal of hope for the children studying with them. This school is possibly a beacon in terms of integration of ICT with the curriculum, facilities offered and awareness of the importance of early exposure to ICT. A beacon of hope which refurbished computers from Computer Aid is making possible.
After taking our leave, we bounced and bobbed and weaved our way back to the main highway, surfing potholes, booby traps, ditches, and a thousand people. Heaven knows how the school ended up where it is. When I remark on the slum to our driver, he said, “Kibera [the Nairobi district that houses about a quarter of its population] is worse!”
In the morning, we met our partners CFSK, consisting of Mercy, Nicholas, Tom and Elizabeth. Dr. Tom Musili founded CFSK in 2004. Since then CFSK have received over 2,000 of Computer Aid’s computers and have built what he called a ‘total solution’ for the delivery of PCs, the training of teachers and other staff, eLearning, the replacement/upgrading of exhausted kit, and the final recycling of this through an e-waste centre, one of the few in Central/East Africa. Tom spoke warmly of his close partnership with Computer Aid, so close that he considered that, instead of being separate, we were almost part of each other – for example, Computer Aid has done joint training with CFSK recently on e-waste. CFSK have the local links (Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance) and the network to deliver in the regions of Kenya. Despite that, there remain about 30,000 institutions still to access ICT, as far as Tom knows, with CFSK having delivered to 3,000 schools and the government 2,000. However, the problems are not always the obvious ones of affordability, availability of broadband and literacy – there are cultural barriers to recycling without some payback. Despite this, CFSK is set up perfectly to scale up to all other schools when ready.
Elizabeth and Mercy took us on a tour of the e-waste facility, out the Mombasa Road toward the airport. We met the team there, headed by Seth, and saw the facility, which had a refurbishment area, and a harvesting area, for recycling. The first part is what Computer Aid does with its donated PCs, and was thus very familiar to us. The second area was new to me. This is where all waste materials are separated and sorted, and then recycled locally. This is by no means an easy task – for example, there is as yet no local recycling solution for the glass that appears in monitors. They handle about 2,000 PCs a month in the recycling workshop (the refurbishment team uses volunteers) and to date have handled about 100,000 individual units of kit. Computer Aid has been involved in the e-waste facility since its inception in 2006, through donations of funds and more recently with our joint training partnership launch in February.
Gladys Muhunyo, Computer Aid Director of Africa Programmes, and I took our leave of our CFSK partners, buoyed by seeing such an inspiring example of the big effect a small PC donation can have on children such as Frances.
Computer Aid International