We have now completed 7 weeks of class with the teachers and the students. Since our solar panel arrangement was never fully resolved, we were forced to obtain a generator. It arrived a few weeks late, but as of last Saturday it works well and can charge all 100 laptops at once. It should cost about 10,000 Ugandan Shillings a day to fuel, which is about 5 USD. With the aquisition of the generator, we were able to charge the laptops during class, and therefore also were finally able to distribute the laptops to the children to take home after class.
We held an official launch ceremony on Sunday to honor the occasion. About 100 parents, neighbors, and village elders attended, as well as the approximately 100 students of the St. Edwards Primary School. The day started with an hour of singing and dancing by the schoolchildren and orphans. We then did a short demonstration of some of the activities on the XO, and 10 students walked around showing their laptops to the crowd. We then served a lunch of almost 50 kilos of rice, as well as meat and beans to all the students and guests. After lunch, the local reverend said a prayer and led the Ugandan national anthem. Our team then gave a brief speech about the goals of the project, which the OGLM director, Chris Kalema, translated into Lusoga for the crowd. This was followed by a speech by Hellen Lunkuse, the OGLM volunteer who accompanied us to Kigali, Chris Kalema, and one of his friends, a consultant who does most of his work via computer, and briefly presented on the success and high salaries available to people with IT skills. The final speech was made by the guest of honor, the local Member of Parliament. All the speechs were very supportive and thankful for the laptop project, and the crowd developed a similarily positive attitude, as hoped. After the MP spoke, the reverend called us up for a naming ceremony. According to Musoga tradition, they recognize outsiders who they feel have made a substantial contribution to the community by giving them a Lusoga name. The reverend came up and presented us each with a local name, which we then repeated, only to be met with uproarious laughter and “Ay-yi-yi-yi”s from the audience. Finally, we called out students names one by one and presented them their laptops and a copy of a contract for their use. Chris and the MP, read them out loud in English and Lusoga, as many of the parents are illiterate, and the parents then signed them and returned them. I loaned a pen to one mother and proceeded to watch her spend 5 minutes painstakingly copying her child’s name letter by letter off of the cover of their laptop. Many of the mothers came forward asking for help, and Hellen wrote their child’s name for them, and then had them move the pen back and forth a few times over the line marked “Parent Signature”.
Overall, the day was a much needed success. It started quite badly due to continued conflict with our NGO, but the parents and children went home completely thrilled. Many of the families sat around after the ceremony, with the kids showing their parents and siblings how to use the XO. The 9 students who are also residents of the children’s home went into the dormitory and showed all the other orphans how to use them. Although, the actual implementation of this project has resulted in substantial resistance and frusteration, seeing such positive results from the deployment is a big morale booster. We’re now just wrapping up loose ends, arranging for a carpenter to build a charging station now that we know our charging location and arrangement, as well as discussing our longterm vision for the program with OGLM and the teachers. We will have little-to-no control over the project once we leave, because the teachers have no internet or email access, and OGLM is flaky and often makes committments it does not actually intend to maintain. Although we will continue to correspond with them, we cannot be assured that they are actively following through on the ideas we present them with. So our goal for the last few days is to explain to as many people as possible our vision for the future of the project, and hope that they take some of that into consideration as time passes.