Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part I


Cale and I have been working on a project for several months now that I haven’t mentioned in the blog for fear of jinxing it. It as gone past the jinxable stage now, so I think it is safe to talk about it.

I know this sounds all melodramatic, like we have been working on some sort of top-secret project. That is not true. It was just something that I didn’t want to say anything about until everything had worked out.

Part I

Last November, just before going home, Davey-Dave put me in contact with a man in New Zealand. Brian Lawrence owns The Ark, a company that refurbishes computers from businesses when they up grade. They resell the computers to New Zealand schools. In the past they have sold older-model computers to Samoan schools like Dave’s school Chanel and Gal’s school in Aleipata for very low prices.

At the time Brian said he was looking to donate between 200 and 500 computers to Samoan schools. He wanted to know if I could help. I was overwhelmed, finding placement and shipping for 500 computers seemed like a huge undertaking that I could not even begin fathom. I contacted Amos, a former volunteer, who had extended a year to do a similar project. At this time his extension was over and he was already back in the States.

The first step was finding schools for these computers. I told Brian that just donating to schools with Peace Corps Volunteers, I could find homes for about 200 of the computers, but if he wanted to make a donation as large as 500, I would put him in contact with the MESC (Ministry of Education).

Brian and his wife Jackie came to visit Samoa in March. I put him in contact with the ACEO of MESC and they had a meeting with her. I also contacted the Peace Corps volunteers and made a list of those who would be interested in receiving a computer donation. I listed the type of school, the number of computers they wanted, whether there was already a computer lab or whether to school had a place to create a computer lab and other details. Then I organized a tour of five of the schools and one after-school homework center on Upolu. Cale’s principal escorted Brian, Jackie, Cale and I around Upolu visiting the schools, seeing the facilities, talking to the staff.

Brian pointed out several times during the tour that he realized the donating computers was the easy part. The hard part was finding teachers to give classes and technicians to keep the computers working. We visited one school that had 10 relatively new computers sitting unused in the library. They thought the computers were broken, but had no one at the school that knew what was wrong or how to fix them. Cale, on a lark, tried to turn one on and got it up and running very easily. This school didn’t need more computers, what they needed was a trained person on staff.

In April, Brian contacted me with his decision to donate to eight Peace Corps schools. He said that he wanted to look at this project as two-phased. First, donating to these Peace Corps schools, where he knows there is someone to setup and maintain the computers and train others on how to use them. After that he would start to look at a larger, more long-term project.

A little more than a month later, Brian had about 20 student volunteers from the Manukau Institute of Technology in New Zealand in his warehouse working to refurbish the computers for donation.

During this time, one of the volunteers at a school slated to get computers left his school and was searching for a new posting. We decided we would give those 15 computers to some Peace Corps primary schools. I sent out an application. I didn’t want the responsibility of deciding who did and didn’t get computers. Also Cale’s principal was already involved with the project. If he was in charge of the decision, it was one more thing that would be sustainable if Brain decided to donate computers again after Cale and I had gone. So we asked Cale's pule to choose the schools.

— Sara

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in our exciting story

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