It all started last Fall, when founders Jenni and Jason Doherty came to speak at Marin Academy and my son Jono and wife Joanne came home talking about a school in Kenya and how Jono was thinking he might travel to Africa this summer. My first thought was, ‘East Africa? No way.’ Then I too met the Dohertys and learned more about this incredible program.
After some discussion about the school’s needs and research into various fundraising approaches, Jono began writing letters to – well – everyone, in an attempt to fund a computer lab for the school. The response was astounding. Seemingly everyone who heard of the project wanted to help. Ultimately, Jono raised over $7,000 in donations, plus another few thousand dollars’ worth of digital cameras donated by members of the Marin Photography Club.
Because of the limited electrical power at the school, the decision was made to buy Toshiba netbooks with 10 hour batteries. (I’ll add a plug for Best Buy here: When the local salesman was approached and learned more about the project, he found a way to offer the supplies below his cost!
So to Kenya went a room-full of laptops, mice, headphones, external hard drives, digital cameras, flash drives (for students and staff to store their data), DVD/CD-RW drives, an N-band wireless router, 240V surge protectors, and assorted cleaning supplies and peripherals. In short, an entire computer and photography lab!
But the lab was just the starting point. The focus of the project simultaneously turned to teaching the concepts necessary to take advantage of these tools. Lesson plans were created for basic computer learning and introductory photography skills. In addition, John King, a retired engineer who teaches seniors to use computers in the local adult ed program, was recruited to write companion written lessons for the computer project. In addition to the countless hours that he put into writing four lessons, he offered some great advice for the classroom curriculum. (At the Cavallo Point fundraiser, he and his wife also bought a cow for the school. “After all,” he said, “when else in their lives would they be able to say that they bought a cow?”)
As winter turned into spring, it was decided that it would be me that would be joining Jono in Kenya. While we talked through curriculum development and how to present the concepts to students with little if any prior technology access, Joanne assisted with fundraising and took care of the medical aspects of our trip preparation – each day seemed to bring a new vaccination. J
When visiting the U.S. in May, Jenni and Jason volunteered to help transport the equipment the 9,600 miles to the school. The computers and cameras were farmed out between them, us, and a half dozen other volunteers who were making the trip. (And I still fondly remember the day when we brought the equipment over to their home. What an exciting moment as all of the planning took on the air of reality that this was all going to happen.)
A few weeks later, school in Marin was out and Jono and I made the long trip to Kenya.