Archive for the 'My Work in Togo' Category

Camp Informatique

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Camp Informatique was a success! It was so much fun. It really was amazing to see kids who on the first day couldn’t tell the monitor from the mouse go to typing up letters. I think we forget how much we know about technology.
The first day of camp we spent learning how to use the mouse (clicking and double clicking) and the keyboard. For example, how does one make a capital letter? What is the enter, delete, and space key? By the third day they were browsing the internet. They had no idea what is even available on the internet, such as information on health, math, and history.
Thanks again to all the people who helped. I can not say strongly enough how much of a difference you have made in these student’s lives.

Camp Unite

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

I just got back from a week as camp counselor.  The camp was5days and there were around 35 boy participants.  Most had recieved a middle school education before quiting school to learn a trade (such as car mecanic, carpenter, etc).

The camp teaches skills such as working together in a group, good communication, preventing child traficing and other skills. Plus there is time for fun.  I taught a session on rape and sexual harassment.

The boys also had to wear a pregnancy apron at times and strapa larger tuber to their back as if it were a baby.  This gavethem empathy for the first time for women’s work.  Men here are in the habit of considering women’s work easy and that women are just lazy.

It was a very good camp and it was good to see the boys considering some new things and reflecting on things they had always just taken for granted.

one laptop per child

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

A volunteer here lent me her OLPC laptop to take around and introduce to teachers and computer professionals here in Sokode.  This laptop got a lot of press recently for trying to develop a machine that can be used in developing countries to introduce children to computers.

I brought it to my computer training of trainers.  I tried to explain that the computer is cheap, durable, and for education.  They looked at, but at first did not understand that it is for children.  It was like I had showed up with a porshe and said it was for preschoolers.  Why would someone give a computer to kids?  I finally opened a simple math game and showed them how to play.  They finally got the idea, that yes, technology can be used as a tool to learn other things, like math.

I think the laptops are a great idea, but I saw that there will be challenges in changing the paradrigm about computers.  The idea here is that Computers are fancy technology for big important people, and one must be trained on using computers themselves extensively.  Giving computer to children to help with their schooling is a novel and foreign idea.

But after playing awhile themselves, they seemed to get the idea and started asking how they could acquire them.

facilities for programming class

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I have been teaching programming to a group of teachers. Lycee Technique offered us the use of a small computer lab (6 computers).  The room is closed by a metal gate, but there are no screens or windows, so dust from the nearby carpentry and masonry workshops float in and wreak havoc.  The school claimed to not have resources to by some cloth to cover and protect the computers, so I made my students contribute themselves.

One computer was attacked by viruses (brought in by USB thumb drives; there is no internet connection) and stopped working.  Another had a hardware failure.  The administration again said there was no money to repair the machines.  So we were down to 4 computers.  Then one computer was stolen.  I don’t know who is suspected or if the school is doing much to find out.
Luckily, the minister of education sent a letter recently to the school saying that they should make an effort to teach computer skills to their business students.  This seemed to inspire the school, and they dusted off the 20 computers they recieved from a partner school in France but have been sitting in a closet for 2 years and set them up in a computer lab.

I went to the new lab yesterday to see if the we could recommence our programming class.  There were not enough electrical outlets for over half of the computers. And still no glass on the windows or clothes on the computers to protect them from dust.

this is an example of how the problems I encounter here often seem fundamental.  Yet there is a lack of willpower to fix things, or even to prevent further problems.   I just keep pushing and insisting and needling and annoying people until hopefully things will work and be somewhat efficient.

In the meantime, we will restart the programming class.  This week’s topic; SELECT statements in SQL.

Camp Informatique

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

So much infrastructure are poor oe non-existant, including a frustrating lack of information. We (in the USA) are used to vast amounts of information at our fingertips. If we don’t know something we just turn to the nearest high speed connected recent model computer – never far away- and look it the answers.

Here in Togo, knowledge is passed slowly and deliberately. Books aren’t readily available, and knowledge is passed from teacher to student and generation-to-generation as if it is written in stone. How can improvements be implemented if no one knows about them?

But lots of information is out there, online, for free. Computers (old) and an internet connection (slow as molasses) are available at cyber cafes, but people just don’t know how to use them. This means that people can’t find the information that would really help them (water sanitation, improved latrine design, cooking with solar, or even scholarships to study at a university) because they don’t know how to use a mouse and keyboard.

So my job here is to be a small bridge to the world of information and communication technologies. I work with schools and businesses to teach computer skills. This ranges from using a mouse to computer programming. I’ve built web sites with students, taught teachers to use a word processor, and worked on moving business records to spreadsheets.

One project last year was a Computer Camp, in which we introduced basic computer skills to the top 36 students in the region. Many students came to the camp having never sat in front of a computer before; they all left having knowing how to type documents do academic searches on the internet.

( More at )

We would like to do the camp again this year, but we need to pay for it somehow. So, here is your chance to help bridge the digital divide. $75 pays for one student to come to the camp. (But a bigger donation is also accepted).

If we don’t raise the full amount requested for the camp (3000), we don’t get to do it at all. The community is offering the computer hall for free, emergency health care for the campers, notebooks, pens, and helping with other costs. Any help you can give will stay in the community and will be used in the most cost effective manner possible.