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From Red Mud Building Blocks to Ruggedized Laptops

Chimoi Special Unit

In Kenya, living off of the earth literally means exactly that: you build with what you have around you. If there is only red soil, the buildings are made of red mud bricks; if you only have sticks and stones, town construction reflects those materials. This is what Intel Event Marketing Manager Cindi Wiggin noticed as her van wound its way to Matete, a small village in the Western Province of Kenya. As part of a 17-day program, Wiggin and others brought a new type of building material to the Chimoi Primary School in Matete: silicon.

Middle school kids at Chimoi Primary School in Matate, Kenya.
Middle school kids at Chimoi Primary School in Matate, Kenya.

Wiggin recently participated in the “Spark a Child’s Digital Future” program. Organized by World Vision, Intel, Microsoft and the British Council, the program brings new technology to communities where there is none. World Vision goes into villages to feed and treat sick children, console anguished parents, and even employ school kids as interns. Another part of the outreach is bringing technology to school labs. Wiggin, an Intel employee for 23 years, jumped at the chance.

Wiggin and her family are no strangers to travel. She and her family have been to Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua, among other locations, and tend to shy away from the overly touristed areas.

“We are travelers, not tourists,” Wiggin said.

Intel employee, Cindi Wiggin (right), giving personal instruction to two Matete teachers, Beatrice Akosa (middle) and Anne Iminza (left).
(L-R) Matete teachers Anne Iminza and Beatrice Akosa receiving personal instruction from Intel employee Cindi Wiggin.

Wiggin was part of a team of five employees participating in the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) effort, which brought ruggedized Intel classmate PCs, a server and additional workstations to the Chimoi Primary School in Matete. IESC is an international, skills-based volunteer program working with government entities and NGOs to facilitate Intel technology use in education, healthcare and economic development. Since 2009, over 300 Intel employees have completed 62 assignments in 20 countries.

The Chimoi Primary School has an enrollment of over 500 students with an average class size of 40 students. There is no running water, and villagers have to walk for hours just to get fresh water. The school is made out of cement bricks, and power to the school is heavily regulated, despite temperatures frequently reaching over 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity.

The children in this school district are so happy to have the chance to learn on computers. They get on average 1 hour a month due to the number of kids/numbers of computers at each school.
The children in this school district get on average 1 hour a month due to the number of kids and computers at each school.

Wiggin said power was turned on only when it was needed for the computers. Some computer labs are not connected to the power grid and use portable generators, or even solar power, to run the computers. Sometimes laptops are charged at nearby schools and then brought back to the school without power.

From an Internet-connectivity standpoint, frequently only 3G wireless connections are available. A typical computer lab within Matete consists of a 3G modem connected to a Wi-Fi router. The router connects to a Windows MultiPoint Server, multiple student laptops (classmate PCs) and a teacher laptop. Depending on the class size, there is anywhere from one to three students per computer.

But Wiggin initially had mixed reactions to the outreach.

“What the hell are we doing here?” Wiggin asked. “They need food, medicine and water. Why are we worried about computer labs?”

Chimoi Primary School where it’s not uncommon to have upwards of 70 kids in each class.
Chimoi Primary School where it’s not uncommon to have upwards of 70 kids in each class.

It turns out that bringing technology tools and training unveils an entirely new world to the students, teachers and community. A survey conducted by the team showed that 33 percent of the computer labs are used between 10 and 20 hours per week or more, while 66 percent are used less than 10 hours per week.

“When talking to the teachers and kids, they saw the world opening up,” said Wiggin. “It brought hope and dreams and a drive to do more.”

The environment is a challenge, said Wiggin. There is an average of 12 children per family, resulting in crowded schools. According to Wiggin, 60 percent of students are orphans either due to AIDS or tragic accidents.

Now back in the U.S., Wiggin still receives Facebook messages, text messages and phone calls from the teachers of the Chimoi Primary School.

“The teachers just completed their third teacher training session and are using the technology with their students on a regular basis,” Wiggin said.

This content was originally published on the Intel Free Press website.


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