Coders4Africa Egerton University Boot Camp December 2012

Kristen Houlton has worked with the Nairobi part of the Computer Aid team as Training Coordinator, facilitating workshops and working with organisations such as Coders4Africa to put on a series of boot camps for burgeoning programmers. Here’s her summary of the Egerton University Boot Camp which took place on the 12th of December in Nairobi, Kenya.


Members of the Kenya Chapter of Coders4Africa (C4A), in conjunction with Computer Aid International, traveled to Egerton University, Njoro Town outside of Nakuru to deliver our first-ever Mobile and web Boot Camp to the students there. The training involved Egerton students, most involved in IT programs. This Mobile and web Boot Camp was funded through a cost-sharing arrangement between Coders4Africa USA (primary), Computer Aid and Egerton University

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Why I Volunteer at Computer Aid

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a 20 year-old student who was raised in Kenya. I’ve spent most of my life in a private school in Mombasa, one that is fully furnished with tables, chairs and (most importantly, to me) computers. However, the block next to that school was a public school that was visible to me every second of my primary and secondary education; cracked windows, no desks or chairs, peeling paint and no form of technology at all. Those images still remain burned in my mind, 4 years after leaving Kenya to move to the UK.

Computer Aid really attracted me as a place to spend my summer volunteering, as they are one of the principle providers of IT equipment to schools like the one I remember. They have bestowed over 200,000 PCs to schools and hospitals in third-world countries, and have recently been sending zubaboxes (mobile solar internet containers) to communities in Africa. Their approach of nurturing the recipients’ technological skills is also very commendable, as many charities give the proverbial man lots of fish instead of teaching him how to fish. Computers, unfortunately, do not grow on trees. Computer Aid gets old computers via corporate and individual donations, and a team of volunteers data-wipes them, refurbishes them and prepares them to be sent to the developing world. Every PC is asset-tracked, which means an individual donor who’d wish to know where his old ACER laptop has travelled to, can find out exactly what primary school it currently resides in.
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15 years of ICT for Development: a reflection

Last week Computer Aid International celebrated providing its 200,000th computer to organisations working in education and development in more than 100 countries.

Computer Aid’s Founder and previous CEO Tony Roberts reflects on changes in the field of information and communication technologies for Development (ICT4D) over the last fifteen years.

In 1997 when we founded Computer Aid International, silver-haired senior managers in the London headquarters of international development agencies were sceptical of our suggestions. They thought us fanciful in seeing a role for ICT on the ground in development (despite using computers themselves at work and at home). It certainly wasn’t the way development was done back then.

Undeterred, experience on the ground told us that the level of demand for ICTs from operational development worker was significant and fast-growing. Local field staff were eager to apply ICT to enhance service delivery and empower communities.

We made mistakes though; a technology-centred approach limited the value of some initiatives. Hype and enthusiasm often proceeds the application of sound development practice in the arena of technology and development. This is equally true whether you look at Computer Aid in those early days, the telecentre movement later on, MIT’s one-laptop-per-child initiative, the bubble of mobile apps for development or some of the current activity around Open Data and transparency.

In the cycle of innovation diffusion and adoption, hype precedes substance; technology-push precedes genuine demand-pull; and technology-centred precedes people-centred development.

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Why volunteer?

I volunteer. It sounds nice. Looks good on your CV, and there is always that sense of satisfaction when you get to say it out-loud to someone else.  The word ‘volunteer’ holds about as much romantic resonance as telling someone you climbed Mt Fuji last summer…well, not exactly, but it makes you sound like a ‘good’ person.  When we think of volunteering we unwittingly relate images of blissful hard-labor, being carried out by young, fit, helping hands.  Sometimes there is even a spade, red soil, usually a well, and almost always – it’s somewhere sunny and distant.

The truth?

I began volunteering with Computer Aid just over a month ago.  Remember the ‘teach a man to fish’ ad?  Yes; of course you do. Well this is the premise behind Computer Aid; except let’s swap fishing for ICT, (stay with me folks).  This unassuming NGO, from the suburbs of London, takes your old donated computer, refurbishes it, wipes any existing data and sends it for re-use to other NGO’s, schools and hospitals around the developing world.  Every PC is asset tracked; so you can find out exactly what project you are helping, and to what country your jet-setting PC has travelled to.  Now; I know what you’re thinking – people can’t eat computers or use them to farm.  After just the first day of volunteering, this pre-conception was disproved for me. Well, sort of.  Let me begin by dodging some serious legal repercussions and confirm that: no, you cannot eat a PC.  But ICT is an invaluable tool for farmers in developing countries…and doctors…and students.

 As a volunteer this does not mean that I and the team travel to the likes of Kenya or Chile with PCs for donation.  I was hired for an administrative role and to carry out support functions for the Fundraising Department.  However, every day since beginning at Computer Aid has been different and, (without sounding too much like an encyclopedia salesman), not a day passes when I don’t learn something new about the workings of an NGO. Since joining I have taken part in a number of projects current to Computer Aid including fundraising for the EMAP awards, attended the Sustainability Live Exhibition and helped raise Computer Aid’s online Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter profiles.  Which leads me to my first point of advice for charity pilgrims…

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How donated PCs are helping pupils in Ecuador

We’ve had some great feedback from one of our partners in Ecuador, the Fondo Ecuatoriano de Cooperacion para el Desarollo (FECD) who have equipped hundreds of schools across Ecuador with computers donated to Computer Aid.

Consuelo Rivadeneira, whose children attend the Angel Héctor Cedeño school in the Manabi province that has received PCs donated to Computer Aid has said:

“Now we can equip schools that never had a computer before and it is very important for children to have IT skills these days. Thanks to this project, the children have an access to technology that we, parents, couldn’t have and I am very happy that they have this opportunity.”

In the past four years, Computer Aid has dispatched more than 4,000 refurbished computers donated by UK organsiations to the FECD in Equador. The PCs have been used to reduce the digital divide that exists in rural areas of Ecuador by providing high quality refurbished computers to schools, colleges and civil society organisations.

Equipping schools with computers means that they can provide lessons in basic IT skills which will give their pupils the opportunity to look for higher income employment in the future. As well as teaching IT skills, the provision of IT in schools can also help improve the lesson content in other subjects as it helps teachers to demonstrate difficult or less interesting subjects in a visual format. With PCs and IT training, many teachers are downloading and using free educational software to support them in teaching key subjects such as maths and languages.

PCs donated to Computer Aid and sent to the FECD has given up to 67,000 students who may otherwise not have access to PCs the opportunity to gain IT skills – which we think is a fantastic result!